Danny Morrison accepts that Liam Kennedy’s campaign against punishement was launched by a decent man, but complains that the negative publicity it may have generated in the UK and Irish media ignores the context in which ‘vigilantism’ came to be. The core of his argument underlines the need to move smartly to open and accountable policing, but that this can’t be seen outside the Republican movement’s ongoing negotiation with the British and Irish governments.He explains that context and even recaps on some of the points raised at Kennedy’s debate on punishment beatings:
The nationalist community turned to the Republican Movement and put pressure on the IRA to fill the policing vacuum. The bulk of policing was done through mediation between those in dispute, unreported and away from the media spotlight. But republican vigilantism (a propaganda gift to republican critics) was rough and imperfect, especially when the IRA was fighting an armed struggle and had little time for niceties.
The IRA viewed community policing as a major distraction from its chief purpose and suspected that the RUC indulged criminals in order to tie down IRA resources and demoralise the nationalist community which might, just might, out of desperation, look favourably to the return of a ‘reformed RUC’ as a possible solution.
Republican policing was at its most exertive in those areas where the IRA was strongest. Despite being ‘popular’ and expected by communities it had major downsides. It could alienate the extended families of those individuals the IRA took physical action against or could rebound more broadly when the IRA made mistakes, as it inevitably did.
However, republican policing could not go on forever, especially when republicans were taking part in a peace process and negotiations, which were to lead to power-sharing institutions, and all-Ireland bodies, in which they were investing legitimacy.
Underpinning the political security and rights of the nationalist community has been fraught and would still involve “a battle a day” within an assembly and executive. Underpinning that community’s physical security involves, ironically, the complete demobilisation of the IRA (which was reorganised initially to defend nationalists from attack) and its replacement with a truly representative and just policing service, operating professionally, impartially and with high standards. In the past such a service was unattainable and could not exist anyway in an unjust society.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty