Irish Republican News · October 20, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
North divided over local justice schemes

A major row has broken out over policing reform in the North of Ireland, with members of the North’s unionist-dominated Policing Board expressing fears over plans to enhance Community Restorative Justice (CRJ) schemes.

CRJ groups bring victims face to face with the perpetrators in local neighbourhoods to agree how they will pay for their crimes.

The schemes were motivated by the need to provide an alternative to republican punishment attacks in areas where the overwhelming Protestant PSNI (formerly RUC) police has long been opposed.

Increased recognition and funding of CRJ schemes is intended to quell republican opposition to the still largely unreformed police and judicial systems. But unionists fear authority and power could now be ceded to bodies they describe as “self-appointed” -- in other words, not appointed by them.

Members of the Policing Board are now demanding a face to face meeting with the British Direct Ruler Peter Hain over what they claim will be a “two-tier system” of policing. Rumours that groups -- possibly including some members of the Provisional IRA -- could be given official power to patrol nationalist communities has caused unease for both unionists and those republicans opposed to the peace process.

“There is no way that we can stand idly by and allow this to happen,” said Desmond Rea, the Policing Board chairman.

Mr Rea said: “The Board is unanimous on this matter - if the rumours are right, we are in imminent danger across Northern Ireland of seeing a two-tier system of policing introduced by the back door, with self-appointed groups taking on quasi-policing roles - including stopping and searching people in the street - squeezing out PSNI, and being paid out of public funds.”

Last week, the moderately nationalist SDLP also drew a line in the sand on the issue, with South Down MP Eddie McGrady describing them as “kangaroo courts”.

The Policing Board member accused Sinn Féin of setting up projects in his constituency to act as an alternative policing service in the North and sustain “an element of control” over the local community.

The SDLP man said he was in favour of Community Restorative Justice work but that the scheme “has to be under the jurisdiction, as it were, of the judicial system”.

Community Restorative Justice Ireland director Jim Auld called the SDLP position “totally hypocritical”.

Mr Auld said the vast majority of the people were supportive of CRJ.

“The standards that we use are equivalent and compliant with the international standards agreed on restorative justice in the Vienna Convention. The training that all staff in CRJ -- including employees and volunteers -- receive are nationally accredited training programmes. We are local people working in local areas.”

Sinn Féin South Down assembly member Caitriona Ruane described the attack as “a smokescreen because the SDLP was presented with the choice of continuing to fight for a new beginning to policing or accepting less, and they accepted less”.

The SDLP leader mark Durkan raised the matter in a meeting with the British Prime Minister on Wednesday.

Emerging from the Downing Street meeting with Tony Blair, he said paramilitaries should not have control over the schemes. “We don’t want local warlords becoming local law lords,” he declared.

“Justice has to mean justice, not do-it-yourself and whatever you are having yourself.”

Jim Auld said he agreed with Mr Durkan’s comments.

“We feel exactly the same way. CRJ has to come up to the highest of standards. It needs to be transparent and open as Mr Durkan says,” he said.

Mr Auld said that the PSNI had “not yet” been accepted by the nationalist community.

“Even if the police force was perfect, there would still be a need for CRJ,” he added.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News