By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
It’s widely accepted that the chaos on the streets of greater Belfast from December through most of February was mainly due to the failure of policing policy.
Or at least to the way the leadership of the PSNI misconstrued policing priorities. For example, when Matt Baggott told the BBC his first priority was Article 1 of the Human Rights Act, the right to life, and that everything he did flowed from that. Not so.
His obligation is to have regard for the Human Rights Act in upholding the law. Article 2 (c) of that very same Human Rights Act makes clear that injury or death caused by the exercise of minimum force “in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection shall not be in contravention of Article 1, the right to life”.
Watching Baggott weaving and dodging around on TV last week reinforced the impression that his whole misguided approach was based on a false premise or at least a misapprehension.
Be that as it may, it would be unfair to lay all the blame for the past three months at the door of the PSNI. Hidden in police statements were forlorn appeals for political action which of course fell on deaf ears.
The police were correct to say that they did not want to return to the days when it was an RUC decision whether or not to ban a parade, a decision which inevitably dragged the police into politics because parading in the north is political. The real failure which has been starkly revealed by the events of the past three months is that of the people who, for want of a polite description, are known without irony as ‘local politicians’.
You may not remember this and there’s no reason why you should but in February 2010 there was a standoff on the matter of devolving policing and justice to the executive.
Out of the last talks overseen by the Irish and British governments there emerged the Hillsborough Agreement, part of which was a commitment to resolve parading. The first minister and deputy first minister were to chair a committee to provide a way forward around the issues of parades, don’t laugh now, within three weeks.
They were to promote dialogue between the loyal orders and residents and new legislation was envisaged by the end of 2010. Suffice to say they failed and nothing more has been done about the matter.
Sadly it’s the same with every other matter of importance that has come before the executive, for which read, the leaders of Sinn Féin and the DUP.
Meanwhile, ministers happily burrow away to create a sectarian silo of each department insofar as the executive is unable to interfere.
Where the executive can interfere then nothing gets done since either Sinn Féin or the DUP vetoes whatever they don’t like. Education is the big one which has been stuck for the best part of a decade. Housing is the next one as Sinn Féin lies in wait to exact revenge for the dreadful McCausland’s subversion of the long-term plans for north Belfast.
The stark fact is that the DUP does not want to share power with Sinn Féin or indeed with any other nationalist. The DUP never subscribed to the Good Friday Agreement, voted against it and rejects its basic concepts still today.
Leading figures still talk about a ‘return’ to normal government, their code for that shimmering Shangri-La - majority rule. They wait for the day when they can abolish the carefully calibrated consociational system devised in 1998. It’s never going to happen but in the meantime they will consent to nothing which makes the present arrangement look as if it might work. By preventing it working they seek to prove it can’t work.
There is a mechanism to deal with this sort of impasse but it’s not working either. It’s the role of Dublin and London through the Inter-Governmental Council to monitor what’s going on in the north but unfortunately in Dublin we have the most partitionist government ever whose relevant minister, former Stickie Eamon Gilmore, adopts what Micheal Martin calls a hands-off approach and an invisible proconsul who is clueless.
Looking forward to summer?