By Jim Gibney
Any future decision by republicans to endorse policing in the six counties will be on a par with those landmark decisions which republicans have already taken over the last decade of the peace process.
These have included the IRA’s decision to call its first cessation, its decision to put their weapons beyond use and its decision to end the armed campaign last July.
That is the scale of the decision facing republicans in relation to policing.
The IRA’s historic decisions over the last decade could only be taken when the political conditions were right, not perfect, but right.
Considerable risks were taken by the republican leadership in making these difficult decisions, dependent as they were on the active support of IRA volunteers, members of Sinn Féin and the wider nationalist support base.
These IRA initiatives were taken to advance the freedom struggle. However, these initiatives challenged the core beliefs of the constituency which supported the organisation through 25 years of war; a war with roots in more than 200 years of republican resistance.
Anyone of these issues mishandled could have provoked a backlash from the republican base which would have undermined the republican peace strategy and in turn the peace process.
There is historical precedent for this fear, which we are reminded of in Ken Loach’s new film The Wind That Shakes The Barley, when republicans parted company and fought a civil war over the 1921 Treaty.
The issues decided upon over the last decade were obviously under the control and jurisdiction of the IRA leadership.
They managed them carefully and intelligently and in doing so gave a boost to the peace process at critical times when it was under pressure.
In a normal democratic society support for policing is a basic principle. Therefore lack of support can lead to a breakdown of society as can be seen from the history of the six counties.
The six-county state is not a normal democracy. Policing has never been normal – it has always served unionist interests. Political policing continues to be a feature of life in the six counties.
The promised new beginning to policing requires more change.
Two weeks ago Martin McGuinness, speaking at the Magill summer, school said, “I have no doubt that some day a republican could hold ministerial responsibility for policing north and south”.
This is not an ill-thought-out remark. Republicans will approach the issue of policing in the same way they approached the Good Friday agreement (GFA).
The institutional framework of the GFA in practice and functioning provides republicans with a new state in the making. Taken together the all-Ireland Ministerial Council, the Executive and the Assembly will deal with matters affecting people’s lives across Ireland. It is on this basis republicans support the GFA. They seek to create a society in peaceful transition to a united and independent Ireland. They will approach policing in the six counties in terms of this transitional view.
Republicans seek to create the maximum amount of political change to ensure policing is lifted out of the sectarian, suffocating and narrow confines of the six counties and placed in an all-Ireland arrangement.
Sinn Féin over years has put policing at the core of negotiations with the British government.
They do so because nationalists more than anyone else have been on the receiving end of oppressive and sectarian policing at the RUC’s hands.
Nationalists have a right to a proper policing service now; to feel safe in their own homes.
This service must be impartial, not engaged in political policing and not run by MI5 or any other British intelligence agency.
Opposition to MI5’s involvement in policing does not just come from republicans.
The Irish government and the SDLP are also opposed to it.
The transfer of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast will help ensure that the malign influence of British securocrats is ended.
If republicans secure the changes needed, then for the first time since partition nationalists and republicans will not only join the police but they and their community will have ownership of it – a far cry from the days when the RUC were the Orange state’s militia.