The article by Joe Byrne, SDLP Policing Board member (09/02/04) is an obvious attempt to distance the Policing Board from repressive political policing against the nationalist community. One might ask who else would be so desperate, except a nationalist member of the current Policing Board? However, that article makes several dubious assumptions which must be challenged. Foremost of which is a vain attempt to divert the debate about policing accountability into a discussion about deficits in the PSNI's resources.
The article referred to the report published by the Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O Loan, into the killing of Sean Brown. On that subject, it is very unclear whether Joe Byrne was writing for the Policing Board or for the SDLP.
I have yet to hear the Policing Board make a formal, definitive response to the Ombudsman's report into the RUC and PSNI's failure to investigate Mr Brown's killing. I didn't hear any SDLP comment either. However, I did hear the PSNI chief constable announce that the PSNI itself would re-investigate Sean Brown's murder, an announcement which pre-empted the public release of the Police Ombudsman's report and which was treated with contempt by the Brown family. The public do not know whether the Policing Board gave prior consent to that announcement of a new PSNI investigation.
Indeed, there has been no public response by the Policing Board to the grievous failures uncovered and exposed by the Ombudsman's report. The case of Sean Brown is not an isolated episode of wrongdoing. It is wrong to suggest that these matters are not relevant to the current policing arrangements.
There are overlaps in many cases of injustice between the RUC and the PSNI. These derive from the transfer of human rights abusers from the RUC to the PSNI and from the continuation of unjust policies and practices. Sinn Féin has consistently challenged the unhindered transfer of RUC members into the PSNI, particularly the Special Branch "force within a force" and the human rights abusers in policing whom the Patten Commission recognised "must be dealt with".
In the case of Sean Brown's murder, the police ombudsman said that two critical police files relating to the investigation went missing after her investigators had begun their work.
As a matter of fact, the Policing Board has yet to recommend the sacking of any senior officer or to instigate an inquiry into any of the policing scandals with which the PSNI is becoming associated. This is not a matter of resources: it is a matter of will.
Policies and practices of the PSNI, especially in politically-motivated
prosecutions, also remain to be challenged. Renaming Special Branch as Remit and realigning the "force within a force" across three PSNI regions has not ended the political policing problem.
In a court case last autumn, finally lost by the prosecution, the sworn testimony of a forensic scientist recorded the practice of Special Branch interference in gathering and analysis of evidence over at least a seven year period. This covers the period of both RUC and PSNI involvement.
It would be interesting to hear what steps the Policing Board are taking to deal with these issues and to ensure the removal of Human Rights Abusers. It would be interesting also to know if the Policing Board has any intention of holding the PSNI chief constable to account over the withholding of information from long-awaited inquests into the killings of Roseanne Mallon and nine other people in Co Tyrone.
These problems are not trivial or historical. But they might be avoidable if the police were to be held fully accountable.
Sinn Féin is determined to achieve a new beginning to policing. In fact, we are the only party organised to achieve this vision on an all-Ireland basis. We will continue that work with determination until we get policing right.