Sinn Féin facing highest hurdle
Sinn Féin facing highest hurdle

By Mick Hall (for the Blanket)

The bar of the hurdle which the UK government insist Sinn Féin must first overcome before they can join any Stormont Assembly Administration is currently set at SF’s membership of the PSNI Policing Boards. I have excluded the Irish government as I’m increasingly bewildered as to what their role in this matter is.

However even if SF were to clear this unnecessary and provocative hurdle, it is more than probable it will still be some years before the Ministerial chauffeur arrives to drive Martin McGuinness to work as Deputy First Minister. If past practice is anything to go by, once the party overcomes the aforementioned hurdle as if by magic another will suddenly appear before it.

Nevertheless, the question of who polices nationalist working class communities is far more than a negotiating device within the hands of the British government and its Unionist allies. For with the downsizing of Oglaigh na hEireann there is a shortage of Volunteers to patrol the streets and administer law and order within working class nationalist communities and even were they able to do so, this in itself would quickly be erected as yet another hurdle to prevent SF from entering the Assembly Administration.

The question of the legality and acceptability of the PSNI has become an urgent issue to be resolved within these communities. If the Provisional Republican Movement is no longer able or willing to provide these communities with the security they are entitled to, the question arises of who can provide basic law and order. We recently witnessed the limitations of the CRJ schemes, when a feud between two Ballymurphy families, which began over a disagreement about a child’s behavior, escalated into a man’s life being taken and a number of homes and businesses being firebombed.

Understandably law enforcement in the north is a tricky question, not only for the PRM but also for the Nationalist working class community as a whole. As like working class communities throughout the world, the nationalist working classes attitude to the police is light years away from how they are viewed in the more leafy middle class suburbs. Thus it is no surprise much of the media whose members come from the middle classes, along with the politicos who sit at Westminister and Dublin, have a very real difficulty getting their heads around this problem.

Within any society it is those who are at the bottom of the pile economically who most often feel the sharp end of the state as represented at street level by the police force (force being the operative word). Any opinion such people have of the police will have been tempered by their life’s experiences when coming into contact with the them. Whilst the northern working classes attitude to the police is in many ways unique, having been forged in the furnace of the Troubles, below the surface it is not that dissimilar to how workers from Brooklyn, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Glasgow, Scotland or Sydney, Australia feel about their own local constabulary.

In all these places workers will have a very jaundiced attitude to the police born of a lifetimes experiences. Whereas the middle class see the police as their protectors and guarantors of their property and privileges, workers see them at best as a necessary evil not to be called on for help lightly, and at worst simply as the heavy mob of the state and powerful vested interests within it.

Whenever members of these communities find themselves under threat or attack from any of these vested interests, whether they be major criminals, businessmen and women or state agencies, almost without exception the police side with these vested interests and not with the communities that find themselves under attack.

These experiences when dealing with the police has not endeared them to working people. For example, roughly the same proportion of working and middle class people take illegal drugs. But this is not reflected in the numbers arrested for this offense or sent to prison by the courts, the vast majority of whom come from a working class background. You would have to be pretty dim witted or prejudiced not to conclude when dealing with illegal drugs the police are far more likely to use the full rigors of the law within working class communities than in their middle class counterparts.

Although, like most sensible people, northern workers are well aware without law and order there can be no pretense of living a civilized life. This being so the northern working class could follow the example set by working class communities in the south and throughout the world and deal with the PSNI when and if the need arises by placing a clothes peg on their noses and getting on with it. Who knows, a better relationship may come about over time due to these contacts. However, I would not hold my breath as they would still have no political input as far as control over the PSNI is concerned.

The question is would it be in SF’s —and those they represent— interest to go the extra mile on policing by joining the policing boards, or is the former clothes peg option as far as Republicans can realistically go at this stage of the Peace Process?

One cannot help but have a sneaking suspicion the British government and its unionist allies are proceeding on this matter with such insistence because they wish to blood SF in much the same manner as a Mafia godfather would get his henchmen to kill, so as to implicate and corrupt his accomplice. Once SF recognize the policing boards, they will be partly responsible for running an armed wing of the northern statelet, with all this entails.

Unless they can show real benefits for those they represent by doing so, and in a comparatively short space of time, this will not sit well with either Republican activists nor those from whence they came.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News