In November 2001, amid much fanfare, the British government re-branded the discredited Royal Ulster Constabulary with a new name, the Police Service of Northern Ireland. With the new name, the occupying power promised ‘a new beginning’ to policing in the Six Counties.
Almost a decade later, it is now abundantly clear that, instead of delivering a ‘new beginning’, the PSNI has simply continued with the same failed anti-working class and anti-republican agenda of the RUC and Royal Irish Constabulary before them. The lie of ‘community-based’ policing has been exposed by the reality of increased draconian legislation, harassment and brutality.
Since its conception the PSNI has: introduced 28-day detention to the Six Counties; introduced Taser stun guns to the Six Counties; introduced CS gas spray to the Six Counties; fired plastic bullets at unarmed civilians and stockpiled more than 50,000 of these lethal projectiles; updated its vast arsenal of weapons including automatic assault rifles and heavily armoured vehicles; expanded the already extensive network of ‘big brother’ style cameras and other surveillance equipment; ignored the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights by continuing to use ‘Section 44’ for unlawful ‘stop and searches’ - in 2009 the PSNI carried out more than 20,000 ‘stop and searches’, almost exclusively against republicans; flouted EU law by retaining DNA samples and fingerprints of thousands of innocent people, including children; regularly suppressed legitimate peaceful political protests; worked hand in glove with both the British army and M15, acting as the local ‘eyes and ears’ of the British state in the occupied Six Counties.
Throughout history, Britain has deployed a wide range of tactics to maintain its occupation of Ireland. Coercion, negotiation, bribery, betrayal and blackmail have all been used at various times by the British state to suppress the right of the Irish people to self-determination.
Regardless of these differing tactics, however, one element of British strategy in Ireland has remained constant for centuries - that of the locally recruited militia. From the Yeomanry of the 18th Century, to the Ulster Defence Regiment of the 20th Century to the paramilitary PSNI of this century, the objective of these forces remains unchanged.
Despite the new name and the change of uniform the primary aim of the PSNI remains the same as the RUC, RIC and B-Specials before it. That aim? To protect the British state and British interests in Ireland.
The British government and its allies in Ireland continuously claim that the PSNI is a normal police service for a normal state. Nothing could be further from the truth. The PSNI is just the frontline force of Britain’s ‘Axis of Evil’ in Ireland, with the British army and MI5 forming the other two elements of Britain’s tripartite of occupation forces in Ireland - with the British Army and the MI5 forming the other two elements.
In 2009, the PSNI confirmed that the British army’s Special Reconnaissance Regiment was active in the Six Counties. The SSR - which is closely linked to the notorious SAS - is only part of the ‘permanent garrison’ of 5,000 British combat troops based in Ireland. These troops, and further reinforcements from Britain, can be rapidly deployed onto Irish streets and into Irish fields should the British government decide to do so. These troops answer directly to the British prime minister, not Stormont.
In 2007, MI5 took the lead role in gathering ‘national security intelligence’ [i.e. protecting the interests of the British state] in Ireland, a role which had previously been held by the PSNI. In the same year, the largest MI5 facility outside of its London headquarters opened in the grounds of the British army’s Palace Barracks on the outskirts of Belfast. Whilst shrouded in secrecy, it is believed that this facility alone can cater for more than 400 MI5 operatives.
At a cost of 20 million pounds [25 million euro], this massive building bears testament to Britain’s long term intentions in Ireland. And, just like the PSNI and the British army, M15 takes its orders from 10 Downing Street, not Stormont.
On February 5th 2010 the British government announced its intention to transfer ‘policing and justice’ powers to Stormont. Even if this transfer were to occur it will affect neither the function or the form of the PSNI.
The PSNI will remain a British police force, enforcing British law in support of the British ‘justice’ system. Like police forces across the capitalist world its primary aim will remain the protection of the state and the interests of the ruling class; interests which run in direct contradiction to the interests of the working class.
There can be no meaningful ‘reform’ of British policing in Ireland, just as there can be no meaningful ‘reform’ of policing within the capitalist Twenty-Six County state. It is only through the restoration of national democracy and through the equitable redistribution of power and wealth that the long-term solutions to the issues of crime, policing and justice in Ireland can be found.