Mick Hall normally writes for The Blanket, but given their editor is on a short sabbatical at the moment, Slugger has gladly stepped into the breach for the moment to publish this very astute analysis of the Republican Movement’s position viz a viz the knotty ongoing conundrum of whether or not accept policing in Northern Ireland.By Mick Hall
Despite taking much criticism to the contrary from the media of late, apart for the odd psycho, Neanderthal man and those who fawn to power no matter who exercises it, few members of SF have any time for the murderers of Robert McCartney, indeed most were as appalled as the rest of us by his murder, if not more so as they were forced to face
the ugly truth that members of their own movement were party to this crime, which in reality had more in common with the loyalist paramilitary goon squad who became infamous as the ‘Shankill Butchers’.
However what has become very clear from the response of
many rank and file SF members to this issue, is the leadership of SF has made little real headway in getting their members to accept the writ of the PSNI and all that flows from it. Which is after all at the heart of the McCartney families campaign, hence the defensive stance taken by many Shinners over the McCartney families campaign for justice for their murdered loved one..
To judge from the public statements issued by Sinn Fein leaders such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in support of the McCartney families campaign, it is clear they themselves have passed through this most problematic of rubicon’s for Irish Republican’s. Having accepted if politics is to become primary within the Republican Movement, the rule of law throughout the island of Ireland must prevail. Thus for this to become a reality, at some time the core Republican constituency within the north will have to, however reluctantly accept the PSNI, as whilst the island is still politically divided it is the only body with the ability to enforce the law, however imperfectly across the north’s sectarian divides.
The fact that the core Republican constituency, have not yet reached the stage when they will accept the PSNI, placed them in an impossible dilemma when they were confronted with the campaign by the McCartney family, the main demand of which was that those who participated in the murder of their brother Robert, whether it be the actual act of murder or the cleaning of the crime scenes after the event, should be arrested by the PSNI, charged and brought before the courts of Northern Ireland.
The majority of Republicans had no problem with punishing those who had played a role in Mr McCartneys death. Indeed most who I have spoken to looked forward to those responsible getting their just deserts, although they were more sympathetic to those who helped clean the crime scene, believing they were only following orders, something which when I first heard it made me shudder.
However, what many of them were unable to do was make the leap from agreeing the killers etc should be punished, to accepting that the PSNI and the Northern Irish Judicial system should be the means to do this. Which is hardly surprising given the appalling record of the forerunner of the PSNI, the RUC, whose Special Branch all but institutionally colluded with loyalist paramilitaries throughout the period of the ‘troubles’ and has never been brought to account for doing so, to say nothing of the Diplock Courts etc, which brought the legal system of the north into disrepute in the eyes of many.
Perhaps it would do no harm for Republicans to consider one of the main reasons why radicals who live in western European countries and the USA give their State legitimacy, despite the fact they oppose much of what it does in their name, is because they recognize without the rule of law, the rule of the jungle so easily can prevail; and if this were to happen any hope of reforming the State would become an impossibility. Revolution would then become the only viable option to bring about social and economic change.
Of course a small minority would welcome this believing the old order has to be destroyed in blood. If it is a bloody dictatorship one is living under or brutal foreign occupation where there are absolutely no peaceful options open to bring about change, so be it. But if it is a liberal bourgeois democracy, which at long last is willing to accept a move to equality; all be it reluctantly, with all this could entail, then one would have to be a very rash individual to reject the chance of reform; psychopathic or someone who either totally lacks imagination or has no direct experience of the extreme consequences of violent revolutionary change.
Basically with the GFA, the Adams leadership have asked Republicans to take the reformist road. However as I have alluded to above, the response in the Republican heartlands to the McCartney’s families campaign highlight’s the fact Mr Adams and his leadership colleagues have hardly touched on what this will envisage.
The RM leadership’s tactic of dragging their membership, however reluctantly, along with them with the promise if the membership trust them they will lead them out into the bright sunny uplands of the Irish Socialist Republic, is surly reaching the end of the road. For if there is one thing the McCartney affair has demonstrated, it is the RM rank and file need to be actively on message and not at times of crises left to stagger around, in the hope they will muddle through until the leadership can regain control of events.
What the McCartney affair has shown us is many Republicans are not yet ready to accept the PSNI, however this does not mean they will never do so, indeed being the intelligent people most of them are, the contradictions the McCartney affair has confronted them with will force this issue to the fore.
What is clear the issue of policing must now be a priority for the SF leadership and the two governments, how they will manage to square this very spiky circle they alone will have to decide. If they fail to do so, and accepting the PSNI will be a very bitter pill for Republicans to swallow, one cannot see much of a future for the GFA. Having said this, the bitterness of the aforementioned pill will have much the same foul taste as that which the DUP is being asked to swallow by accepting SF as equals into government. Perhaps there is a quid pro quo here?
Note: the comment zone is switch on at the moment and will remain so as long as we can keep the discussion away from the specifics of the McCartney case.
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