Policing debate
Policing debate

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and Willie Gallagher of the Irish Republican Socialist Party this week presented their differing views on the policing issue.


The position of the IRSP in regards to this issue goes beyond the basics of traditional republicanism. What would not have been conceivable in the past has today become a reality. The fact that some republicans, are being asked to support and endorse the PSNI and the judicial system, has become a bitter pill to swallow, within both pro-GFA and anti-GFA republicanism.

For Republicans the PSNI can never be accepted as a legitimate and fully representational police service purely because they are the institution of British law in occupied Ireland.

They serve the Queen and not the people. They uphold British parliamentarian law in this land. They enforce British rule in our island!!

The PSNI, like any other police force in the capitalist world, protects property before people and act as an instrument of the ruling class.

To become representational of the working class of Ireland, any Police Service would be set up by the people and for the people. This can only be completed and implemented within the parameters of a 32 County Socialist Workers Republic Any such Police Service would be supportive of the needs of our communities.

A genuine police force of the people would not favour the investor, the landlord, the oil magnates, the Coca Cola’s, the Sellafields, Multi-National Corporation or the rich at the detriment of the poor and the working class. It would exist to uphold public order, to protect the inhabitants of this island from those who would wish to exploit them, and to protect the needs of the working class from the greed of capitalism.

Until we have this system in place, until we have the abolition of partition, until we have the complete removal of the British stranglehold on this islands economy. Until we have the complete removal of the British militarily from this land, until the foreign monarchy imposed upon our people is removed and we are declared a 32 County Socialist Workers Republic, then we are not in a position as republican socialists to accept anything less. Therefore the IRSP will refuse to give any kind of legitimacy to a political police force, the PSNI, or to a corrupt British judiciary. These are the fundamental basics for republican socialists.

Even if partition ended tomorrow support for an all-Ireland police force under a capitalist regime, would be a bridge too far for republican socialists. Indeed it would!! We only have to look at how the Gardai behaved in the Shell to Sea protests in County Mayo and to whose interests they were really protecting.

But for now let us deal with some of the realities that republicans are asked to face and accept:

* Support and endorsement of the PSNI

* Support and endorsement of a British judicial system that is anti republican and anti working class

* Support and endorsement of a prison service that brutalised republicans for years and even today refuses to recognise the political nature of republican prisoners.

We have been told by the leaderships of both Provisional Sinn Féin and the SDLP that they are currently negotiating the ending of political policing and the removal of MI5. Does anyone here really believe that the British government will capitulate and allow North of Ireland politicians, never mind republican politicians, to have full control of the policing and judicial system? The British will never allow that to happen!!

Political policing will always remain with us whilst partition exists!!!

Only recently our ex-prisoners group, Teach Na Failte, became the latest subject of political policing. Our offices in Belfast and Strabane, as well as twenty three homes, were raided in a blaze of publicity. The TV camera crews arrived at one of the places to be raided even before the PSNI arrived themselves. They seized all materials which we needed to apply for funding and returned the same materials several weeks after the funding deadline had expired effectively closing us down with the loss of jobs and services to ex-INLA prisoners and their families. All of the rest of the materials were returned just less than a year later with nothing of interest to the PSNI being discovered.

The raison d’etre of the PSNI, regardless of whatever cosmetic changes are affected, is primarily, the maintenance and protection of the States interests and enforcement of British parliamentarian law in this land.

During recent years our communities have been bombarded with media hype that we need an accountable policing service, we want an accountable policing service, and we deserve an accountable policing service to combat rising crime and anti-social behaviour in our society.

Will acceptance and endorsement of the PSNI and Judicial system do that? Of course it won’t!! Let’s face reality here, we have never had proper policing since partition and some would say that we have never had proper policing for centuries.

Our community’s s fears are being exploited with a view of pushing the PSNI down our throats as the only alternative. But there are alternatives out there within our communities themselves. Our communities are capable of accepting revolutionary and innovative initiatives if they are participants in its creation and stakeholders in its success. The IRSP may not have all the answers but we do have views on interim alternatives which is a separate debate for another day. .

We recognise that people want civic policing and we have often heard recently, in defence of endorsement of the PSNI, things like what about if Miss Bloggs gets raped should she not go to the PSNI. That is civil policing in which republicans never batted an eyelid, even during the height of the conflict, when people choose to use the RUC/PSNI in cases like that. We have no problem with people using the existing police force on issues of so-called ordinary crime. We do have a problem when that same police force use criminal’s death drivers and drug dealers as informers on republican activists.

Let us focus a bit on crime and would acceptance and endorsement by PSF and the SDLP of the PSNI and judicial system have any impact on the issues that arise from this.

We need look no further than the Free State where all the major parties, including PSF, accept the Gardai as the legitimate police force of the 26 counties. What impact has this had on the spiralling crime rate, the drug barons who are flooding working class areas with heroin, the feuding gangsters, the contract killers, the corrupt politicians and of course the criminal activities of some sections of the Guards themselves. The answer is no! There are very few ‘white collars’ in Portlaoise, Maghaberry or for that matter in any of the prisons in England.

The prisons are full of those from working class communities. Acceptance of a police force in itself does not necessarily equate with the successful combating of crime particularly in a capitalist society.

We should not fall victim to the simplistic analysis of acceptance and endorsement of a police force equals order and safety. This is further evidenced in the fact that the RUC and PSNI were/are accepted, supported and endorsed in Protestant and Loyalist areas yet they suffer the same, if not worse, social and economic crimes and anti-social behaviour.

We have also been told by the SDLP, the Irish and British governments and indeed from the PSNI that we now have the most accountable police force in the world. But we are still waiting for them to account for their past collusion with loyalist death squads, we are still waiting for them to account for their many crimes committed against the republican/nationalist community, the torture and false imprisonment of many republican activists and of course an account from the judiciary for their decades of perverting justice via the Diplock courts.

We have yet to have even an acknowledgement on the torture of republican prisoners in the Cages and H-Blocks. Only recently the revelations of the activities of police agent and UVF Commander Mark Haddock suggest that the PSNI are still involved in the murders of its citizens since its name change from the RUC. The PSNI won’t even make public ‘The Stalker and Stevens reports’ into collusion. MI5 won’t even acknowledge there past presence in the North never mind their murderous activities nor have they commented on their collusion into the importation of weapons from South Africa or their prior knowledge of the murder of human right solicitor Pat Finucanne.

Who here believes them when they say their presence in Ireland is to protect us from so-called international terrorism? Who is going to protect us from MI5 and CIA terrorism? Yet we are being asked to believe them when they say they are the most accountable police force in the Western World.

Republicans cannot solve the policing issue by becoming the police within this corrupt and unaccountable system. We should tackle the issues and not try to effect cosmetic change within a British controlled and irreformable model of policing. To recognise the PSNI as the legitimate police service of the North of Ireland is recognising Britain’s right to rule a part of Ireland. We cannot bow to the pressure of making a hasty and ultimately counterproductive decision on these issues.

The endorsement of the PSNI and Judicial system has the potential to set back or completely derail any radical change. It also has the potential to assimilate republicans into the institutions we are committed to replacing. It would be a massive republican misjudgement to do so. We will only become a part of the problem not the solution.

To sum up we must keep our republican integrity intact and refuse to endorse the judicial system and the PSNI as the legitimate legal forces of the North of Ireland.


I want to welcome Ian Paisley’s commitment to take up the post of First Minister and to share power with Sinn Féin once outstanding issues are resolved, and if the electorate so decide. I do not underestimate the challenge this is for Sinn Féin and for many republicans and nationalists. Nor do I underestimate the challenge a power sharing arrangement presents for Mr. Paisley and the DUP.

However, I am confident that all of the outstanding issues can be resolved, including that of policing. Sinn Féin is for policing and a fair and effective legal and judicial system which is transparent and accountable. That requires a different policing experience to the one we have known.

Republicans and nationalists are against criminality. Those who target the young and the elderly, those who deal in drugs and rob and assault our senior citizens, as well as the rapists and racists, have to face justice.

In all of the countless negotiations we have had on this issue in recent years Sinn Féin’s strategic goal has been to achieve a civic policing system which is accountable to citizens and representative of the community as a whole.

A number of key matters remain to be resolved. Central to these are the exercise of power and accountability over policing and justice. It is unreasonable to expect politicians or citizens to take responsibility for policing and justice and yet have no real authority over these matters.

Local politicians would not agree to run the health service without authority over it. Local politicians would expect to be able to question or challenge the Health Minister about decisions being taken by the health department.

Policing and justice are vital, fundamental issues of concern for every citizen. The Assembly and Executive should have the same rights in respect of these matters as for health and education and environment and so on. It makes sense. I believe we can find agreement on this.

What is needed is a definitive timeframe, a date for the transfer of power and the departmental model into which power will be transferred. This isn’t rocket science. It is about parties taking straightforward and practical decisions.

Some DUP politicians have said this matter cannot be resolved for several political lifetimes. That is unsustainable. Arguments about trust and confidence are in my opinion fundamentally bogus. None of our political parties trust each other. That is universal. It is not unique. It is the nature of politics. In our situation this distrust is heightened by decades of injustice, division, discrimination and the last 30 years of conflict.

Very few nationalists or republicans trust the agencies of the northern state. This is particularly so, and with good reason the case with policing agencies, whether the old RUC, the B Specials and other local militia, or the PSNI.

Significant progress has been made in making the PSNI more accountable but because of the sectarian and repressive history of policing in the six counties the PSNI will have to do a lot to earn the confidence of most nationalists.

Some in this post conflict period may think this is unfair. But the fact is that there was partisan policing which engaged in harassment, torture, assassination, shoot-to-kill, plastic bullet murders and maimings and collusion with death squads. That is why the Good Friday Agreement required ‘a new beginning to policing’ as an essential element of the peace process.

That is why policing is such an emotive issue. And because many RUC officers died or were injured in the conflict it is understandable that this emotion affects unionists as well as nationalists.

That is why there is a need for interlocking processes and measures to compensate for the lack of trust and confidence. And the truth is there is not a single political player who does not know this. So crucially we need local accountability and control of our policing and justice structures. We need to take control of policing and justice away from London.

The British government also needs to deal with a number of matters which remain under its control; principle among these is the role of MI5. There is no role for MI5 in civic policing. The PSNI cannot serve two masters. Neither can there ever again be a force within a force.

So, there is a job of work to be done on these issues. Can they be resolved? Yes. And let there be no doubt that even if and when these matters are resolved, there will still be a lot of work to be done by everyone to win nationalist and republican confidence in the PSNI. Indeed some republicans may argue that the British connection and the partition of Ireland prohibits support for any policing agency in the north. But Sinn Féin believes that none of these problems are insurmountable. We are up to the challenge of resolving these matters.

Let me be very clear about this. I am committed to calling a meeting of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle immediately when these issues are resolved. This Ard Chomhairle meeting will be for the purpose of convening a special Ard Fheis within the timeframe set out at St. Andrews.

However, let me be equally clear that I will not go to the Ard Chomhairle to seek a special Ard Fheis unless I have the basis to do so.

In order to expedite these matters Sinn Féin will intensify our contact with the British government. We are prepared to meet with the PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde on issues which fall within his remit and we will sit down with the DUP and other parties at any time to agree other issues.

I am determined to make clear to the widest cross section of national public opinion and especially unionist people that I am determined to see all these issues dealt with as quickly as possible and, as I have said, within the timeframe set out at St. Andrews. If the two governments and the other parties are of the same mind then there is no reason why this cannot happen.

Making the peace process work is exhausting and frustrating. It is far from a perfect process and republicans are not naive. I have repeatedly said that progress is very much inch by inch.

I would appeal to nationalists and republicans to stay focussed, united and patient through this difficult period.

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