The price of policing..?

ALLIANCE leader David Ford has acknowledged that members of the IRA could end up in the police on Inside Politics. Meanwhile, the SDLP appeared even more perturbed than Sammy Wilson over talk of people with terrorist convictions joining the PSNI. Perhaps Sammy – like others – thinks it’s a non-starter. Mind you, there must be some republican who watched events unfold in Garnerville recently, and wondered if signing up to policing wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Community policing must never have looked so attractive to the IRA…

Sammy Wilson of the DUP said:

“To be honest, that issue was raised by one member of the board, who suggested that, if we wanted to police the estates effectively, we would have to recruit from those estates, and that might mean considering recruiting some people with terrorist convictions.

“But I have to say that there is little enthusiasm that I can detect for that move on the board, and it would mean that the law would have to be changed.

“I doubt whether any unionist or SDLP MPs would support Tony Blair, if he introduced a Bill at Westminster to try to bring that about.”

This has never stopped Tony Blair before, and – if he so chooses – the law won’t stop this time either, as he’ll just change it to suit his situation. Nor will the fact that it would appear to be opposed to the holy grail that is the Patten report.

The most relevant passage from the Patten report is this one (my emphasis):

The second point is that the RUC has stricter eligibility criteria than other police services in that relatively minor police records can disqualify a candidate from further consideration. Young people from communities alienated from the police are more likely than others to have had minor run-ins with the police, and those communities are precisely the ones from which more recruits are needed.

We emphatically do not suggest that people with serious criminal or terrorist backgrounds should be considered for police service but we do recommend that young people should not be automatically disqualified for relatively minor criminal offences, particularly if they have since had a number of years without further transgressions, and that the criteria on this aspect of eligibility should be the same as those in the rest of the United Kingdom.

We also recommend that there should be a procedure for appeal to the Police Ombudsman against disqualification of candidates. There must be no predisposition to exclude candidates from republican backgrounds.

I don’t know if the presumed Sinn Fein demand for terrorist convictions to be wiped clean is a ‘deal breaker’. The Policing Board would collapse, as even the SDLP might consider it a resigning matter, given their hostility to the idea. Unionists certainly won’t buy it, even if they do have to accept the inevitability of active republicans joining the PSNI.

I see the most likely outcome at this early stage as an opportunity for a classic piece of Blairism – sidestep the problem and clabber your solution in spin.

In this case, Blair will seek a quick-fix compromise. It will likely be in the guise of somthing like the neighbourhood policing units which are being rolled out across the rest of the UK. Unionists can hardly complain about a republican agenda, if they’re getting the same kind of policing as Yorkshire, can they?

Well, they can, but Blair will insist there will be ‘safeguards’.

(Perhaps a clue to the community policing recruitment criteria regarding previous convictions can be found here (Column 658), in a statement by the previous Secretary of State.)

While events may or may not pan out like this, I have a feeling that the jungle of obstacles blocking Sinn Fein’s path towards the Policing Board will be cleared by neighbourhood police from nationalist communities. They won’t all have the powers of a full officer, but will probably be able to arrest and detain, and issue fixed penalties.

The IRA is not able to properly police crimes in the community it is part of – kneecapping never stopped joyriding, and its offer to shoot the killers of Robert McCartney shows just how far removed the IRA was in March from dealing with crime in an democratically acceptable manner. Perhaps the wording of the statement was meant to demonstrate just that. Neither can any republican agency can effectively deal with crimes like rape, where beating or shooting the alleged perpetrator (if they can even be identified) is probably of little comfort to a traumatised victim. Despite this, Sinn Fein does not recommend that victims of sexual assaults talk to the police, if they want to. I suspect that SF would like to be able to, in order to avoid accusations of denying victims justice.

Like everywhere else, areas where the IRA exerts control need proper policing (although it would be nice to see it in some loyalist areas right now). Neighbourhood policing, restorative justice and other community-based schemes will be the vehicles towards acceptance of the PSNI – anything one step removed from the State, but still closer to it than at any time in living memory.

Unfortunately, the pay-off may be that by effectively setting up another tier of policing at a localised level, we are creating seperate ‘Balkanised’ community police forces – one for us’uns and one for themmuns.

Could the price for policing be a more segregated Northern Ireland?

  • maca

    I think it’s scandalous that they would even discuss/consider hiring anyone who has a terrorist conviction (from any background). Hiring people from the estates makes sense, but hiring someone connected to killers & drug dealers is madness. There’s probably already some dirty cops in the PSNI, why add more.

  • spirit-level

    I strongly disagree, poachers makes good game-keepers. I see this in many walks of life, from ex-drug users making excellent councellors, ex-cult members becoming good rescuers and interventionists. Its the same here. You must bare in mind that “evil” cloaks itself in respectability. Therefore people who have a past, don’t need to pretend anymore, and make effective good public servants.

  • barnshee

    best thing ever happened– with one proviso let the fuckers also pay for the police in “their areas” and relieve the burden on the rest of us. Anthing that increases “balkanisation” should be grasped by the protestants as means of progressing towards total separation

  • DCB


    Agree on the poacher turned gamekeeper theory – but it’s equally possible that the poacher will use his gamekeeping role as a means to paoch on a much grander scale.

    Putting these people in the police could just complete the mifaication of NI

  • T.Ruth

    The push by Sinn Fein/IRA to have former terorists “cleared” to join a reconstructed PSNI that bears no relation to that envisaged in the Patten Report is really about legitimising the terror campaign of the IRA and rewriting the history of the past forty years.
    Should such legislation as is envisaged by those within the government who are themselves supporters of a united Ireland come to pass it would be a sad day indeed for democracy.
    The Unionist numerical majority in Northern Ireland is steadily increasing,the people of the Republic do not by and large favour unification,and so for the forseeable future we should seek self government from Stormont as our preferred way forward.
    Having former criminals, bank robbers,assassins, bombers in the police service is a non starter.
    An Assembly at Stormont becomes increasingly unlikely with every disclosure of the side deals being done by coward Blair and the IRA.
    It will require an enormous change in the governments attitude and a huge raft of concessions to Unionists to gain Unionist confidence and support for devolution.

  • middle-class taig


    “It will require … a huge raft of concessions to Unionists to gain Unionist confidence and support for devolution.”

    I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you! It’s more likely to be the “offer you can’t refuse”.

  • howlurhorses

    Thre is one word which makes this a difficult proposition for me…..Impartial…
    Poacher turned gamekeeper maybe effective but theres still the old boys club and if your face fits scenario.
    Even though I have no faith in the impartiality of the psni I just can’t see the logic behind legitimising the members of the “Do you know who I am gang.”
    Justice and policing need to be impartial.

  • DaithiO

    Recent events have made me wonder exactly how serious the unionist/loyalist communities are about peace and policing.

    PIRA have announced that they are standing down, today the De-commissioning body is in Belfast but what is being done by way of reciprocation. The UVF/LVF feud continues and sectarian attacks on nationalist homes are still being reported.

    Instead of bemoaning the very vague possibility of a former provo in the cops perhaps people like Sammy Wilson would be better deployed addressing the real issues like terrorist acts being perpetrated by the constituents of himself and his party colleagues !

  • Headmelter

    ‘It’s more likely to be the “offer you can’t refuse”.’
    I agree mct. Continuing to veto devolution unionists are preventing their own voice being heard. Direct rule ministers will push what ever legislation they want through. PapaDoc & co can keep complaining about ‘concessions’ to republicans but if they are not prepared to engage in ‘democracy’ they will have no one else to blame but themselves.

  • Democratic

    I notice that comments on this thread are reasoned, thought out and intelligent as is the norm for such Slugger discussions – However I feel compelled to offer my views on this issue – I came from a staunchly Loyalist (even militant) estate originally – Rathcoole – many of my family live there still.
    I realise that this idea of ex-prisoners etc, relates to the Nationalist areas of Belfast at the moment – but if such a motion went ahead then how long before Unionist areas are “policed” by the Republican prisoners opposite numbers over here (both sides treated equally and all that)
    I am not interested in getting into any arguments about who are the better class of violent ex-prisoners – nor will I attempt to lecture Nationalists about what is best for “their communities” but if I had any say whatsoever then I will oppose this idea as much as I possibly can.
    You see I know exactly the sort of people who would be holding their hands out with glee for such a post in the PSNI as a special “officially recognised” community police-force (as opposed to a normal police officer as a difference seems to be being inferred as I see it) – these are the same people I grew up with and those who extort from their own community, who bully, who terrorise, who fly their flags over our streets as if they govern (and in some ways that is exactly what they do – through fear and intimidation) I (perhaps naively)rely on the Police and the government to protect me from these people – not elevate their authority to an officially state-sponsored level. If Nationalists are happy with “their” ex-prisoners
    policing their streets – then so be it – I don’t live there – but please think of the benchmark this will set for the rest of us. On closing I must say that the Ex-gamekeeper argument sounds nice in theory I am willing to bet it did not come from someone who grew up in Loyalist Belfast – unless of course they are in the PUP.

  • JD

    I feel we may need to clarify a few issues here.

    I am not sure where this notion of republicans, who may joining a new policing service, only being permitted to police their own areas. Once you are a member of a police service you are deployed were you are needed most. This comfort blanket that unionists seem to be preparing that if republicans/IRA volunteers are part of any new arrangements that they will be restricted to their own areas is a nonsense.

    Secondly, a bone of contention on this issue seems to be around exprisoners being involved in a policing service. The practicalities of this situation would mean that 36 or 38 year old men and women, at the youngest, would be queueing up to be new recruits. An unrealistic scenario.

    However in saying that my view is that their conviction for political actions should not be a barrier to their involvement in any strata of society, as long as are qualified to do their job.

    Therefore the issue seems to be with young republicans, some of whom may be IRA volunteers joining a new policing service. This I am afraid is something that unionists or anyone else can do can do very little about, as no one will know whether these young people were or are involved in the IRA. So if society wants young republicans to be part of a resolution of the policing issue this something that cannot be avoided.

  • DaithiO

    Well put Democratic. It’s refreshing to see someone raise their points whilst considering there is another train of thought.

    Speaking as someone who has never lived in either community I can understand how nationalists were unable to accept RUC/PSNI as a viable police service/force as it was seen as an overwhelmingly unionist/loyalist/protestant organisation that colluded with the enemy. I can therefore see how those in the unionist communities would object to being policed by former republican paramilitaries.

    At the moment there is a big question of credibility, whilst PSNI officers stand idly by as people are being intimidated out of their homes and offer nothing more than a blanket to a family threatened with sectarian petrol bombings, then they have none.

    As part of the peace process the PIRA is standing down, this is a huge step and a big gamble because the nationalist communities are now even more exposed and dependent upon this excuse for police service.

    Loyalists response to PIRA ending their campaign is to step up their own.

  • Democratic

    Hi JD,
    On your points – it seems that it depends which side of the media you reading from – perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle – apparently Sinn Fein are to/ have been campaigning to have conviction records quashed to allow unhindered entrance to future as yet un-negotiated policing arrangements for Republican ex-prisoners on a “community” basis (i.e within their “own” areas)- is this true? – I don’t know – would it suprise me? – not at all – it would be a perfect buy off/ face save for those ex-physical force Republicans who have complained of poverty and abandonment by their now more affluent political cousins – and on a selfish note I would refer you to my points of what will happen to the rest of us should this go ahead – there will be many takers on the Loyalist side. I also don’t think 36 year olds applicants would be strange or even rare in negotiated circumstances. To be honest I am not comfortable with any miltantly minded people with violent capacities (which in my mind you must be to join any paramilitary organisation)joining a new police force regardless of age, persuasion or existing criminal convictions.

  • Democratic

    Hi DaithiO,
    Your point about the fire blankets is well taken -a disgrace – no argument from me. I can well understand many of the Nationalist worries regarding the current PSNI.
    However I wonder if you were missing out on some of the point of previous post – I do not fear ex-Republicans policing because they will not realistically be in “my” area if indeed this new system would work on a community basis. (different sources are offering different rumours) I fear the Loyalist (ex)paramilitaries who would be queueing up to join this gravy train – at the expense of the decent people in those communities who will be assured to suffer in this deal.

  • Jo

    I remember some time ago, that someone in my year at University was appalled at the prospect of Gardai joining with the RUC and patrolling NI.

    He said and I quote “That’d be an invasion. I know how to use a gun and I’d use it if it happened.”

    This person went on to get a 1st class degree and is now lecturing in England. I imagine their perspective might be somewhat similar on what is being suggested now. Perhaps he might have graducated to tactical nukes?

  • DaithiO


    I think JD addressed those points quite well.

    Surely if Loyalist ex-pramilitaries policed their areas and republican ex-paramilitaries policed their areas then things are just as they have been for years. A viable police force/service has to work for it’ whole area of jusrisdiction or it just isn’t viable.

  • maca

    Spirit Level
    “poachers makes good game-keepers.”

    I don’t believe these comparisons work at all.
    An ex-drug user has suffered because of their addiction and want to help others avoid their mistakes. Do you believe that those with terrorist/criminal convictions have really turned over a new leaf and now want to be the “good guys”? I don’t for even a second.
    I don’t know the level of PSNI candidate in the north but if it’s anything like the south then you should be aiming for higher standards not lower.

  • JD


    Sinn Fein, as far as I know, are indeed negotiating on having political convictions expunged, however this is an issue republican ex-prisoner groups having been campaigning about since the Good Friday Agreement and is not related to policing, however it can of course have implications for it.

    Unionists and others need to understand the legacy of political and bad policing that has existed in the nationalist/republican communities for generations. After the completion to the new beginning, their will be hard questions for republicans. For years policing meant political raids and arrests, torture and imprisonment, collusion and death, crime was not dealt with, in fact it appeared to be encouraged in republican areas, with local hoods and career criminals being given imunity from proscecution and recruited as spies and informants on republicans.

    This is the policing legacy that republicans are being asked to join. Undoubtedly change has occurred and more will come however our community remains unconvinced and if republicans are to be convinced they must see it with their own eyes not as legislation or high wire acts on the transfer of powers. If republicans are to give leadership then they need to become directly involved in policing arrangements themselves to demonstrate that they feel a policing threshold has been reached and it is time to move on to tackle the real policing issues that are affecting our communities. People looking at this situation objectively must be able to see this.

    I sympathsise with what you are saying about the prospect of loyalist paramilitaries becoming involved in policing, however to genuinely deliver a new beginning policing must reflect the community that it serves. Part of the changes demanded and in most cases delivered, however more needs to be done, has been strident accountablity mechanisms that will ensure that anyone involved in policing is fully accountable for their actions unlike the force within a force policing which existed for decades.

  • Democratic

    Hi DaithiO,
    I agree with your last comment completely – I would rather hope however that any viable and fully acceptable police force would not be forced to include any proudly militant political paramilitaries in the name of “peace” whether Loyalist or Republican – convicted or not – young or old(er!)
    I am totally against this form of “community policing” in Unionist/Loyalist areas based on reasons I have outlined above – I will not deem to speak on behalf of any Nationalists – but I am sure I have my opposite numbers “over there” who would echo my stance and I would definately appeal to the larger Nationalist audience to look at the wider picture in terms of ramifications for NI as a whole in regards to finding a permanent solution to the policing problem – this most certainly wouldn’t be it.

  • DaithiO

    OK but the “policing issue” is just a small part of the greater picture. politically speaking.

    Of course without a police force you cannot have what normally passes as “a civilized society” but what has to be addressed before any normality can prevail is the fact that the north of Ireland has 2 communities who have very different ambitions.

    Until there is some form of consensus on that there will be no uniform acceptance of the PSNI, RUC, or whatever it will be called.

  • lib2016


    Does the unionist population realise that there is good historical precedent for this move?

    In the 1920’s when the Gardai were being set up in the South some ex-IRA took the political road, the more literate went into the Civil Service and many of the more disciplined hard men went joined the police which famously led to the emergence of an unarmed police service able to operate in the chaos of a society emerging from the Civil War.

  • Democratic

    Hi lib2016,
    You must remember that I am looking at this scenario from the perspective of how paramilitary involvement in a community based policing solution would effect those living in Loyalist
    Belfast – the scenarios you depict are very unlkely since you speak of people with discipline and literacy – not common traits of the average UDA man circa 2005. Also to JD – I understand fully your observation that a police force must be represented by its community but what we must ask ourselves is this – are paramilitaries (with convictions or without) really who we want to push to the fore as our chosen emissaries?

  • lib2016


    As I understand it we’re not talking about large numbers of unsupervised people here. We’re talking about a few carefully chosen individuals acting in their own areas as part of a larger force of community officers.

    The fact is that the police services in all countries have difficulty in deprived areas. This is just one approach which can be abandoned if it doesn’t work out. They can always be given jobs as traffic wardens if redeployment becomes necessary. 😉

  • JD

    “are paramilitaries (with convictions or without) really who we want to push to the fore as our chosen emissaries?”

    If we are talking about the loyalist community, only people like yourself can answer that question. If they are not your chosen emissaries then do not push them to the fore. The question of convictions I have already dealt, the ex-prisoners in question are too old and are nor really a factor in this discussion.

    In terms of the republican community, their is a job of convincing to be done that a new beginning to policing has indeed dawned, when that day arrives. One extremely important aspect to that, if the republican movement is to give leadership on this issue, is leading by example. That means direct involvement in its structures not just adovcating their use.

  • Democratic

    Hi lib2016,
    In terms of the area I live I wouldn’t even like to go down the road of trial – as I would say you can choose as carefully as you like – there aren’t any “good ones” among the paramilitaries in Loyalist Belfast as far as I am concerned – some Nationalists may feel differently about “their ones” – I myself will not argue about who are “good paramilitaries” and who are “bad ones” I personally depise all of them to be brutally honest. To JD, I understand what you are saying but you know that if Republican paramilitaries become “offically” involved in community policing then their Loyalist counterparts will be right behind – and more to the shame – non-paramilitary Loyalists will completely back it because of the “the other side have it – we want it too!” mentality which tends to supercede rational thought here in NI. I realise I am looking out for my “own” here but I cannot apologise for it.

  • BogExile


    Hello, Planter 3, this is control:

    Go ahead control.

    Planter 3, Croppy 5 requests urgent assistance, incident over Kebab on the Falls Road.

    Control, go away and shite, we’re not goin’ up to that fenian kip, why don’t you send Alliance 5.

    Planter 3, Alliance 5 is currently delayed in Cherry Valley. Water Cannon has been deployed to get them out. You are the nearest unit, please respond.

    Control, Planter 3, request permission to deploy hurley bats then.

    Planter 3, permission denied. Hurley bats are only to be used by officers after they have been killed over.

    Control, fuck away off then, we’re away to watch Rangers.

    Orange 3, cancel my last, Croppy 5 has just changed sides and is robbing the post office.

  • JD


    Indeed you should not apologise for it, and your views are welcome and an interesting perspective on this topic.

    I understand your fears however movement on this issue is necessary if republicans are to be fully engaged in policing and so this issue can be removed from the political arena. The nationalist/republican community have been deprived of proper accountable policing for too long and want the problems that are affecting their everyday lives such as crime resolved.

    Fears within the protestant/unionist community on this issue need to, and can be addressed particularly with reference to your fears over loyalists.

  • slug

    raises some very understandable points.

    I would honestly not like paramilitaries being involved in policing in my area.

    Besides which most neighbourhoolds are mixed enough that I cant see how this will work.

    In Ballymena do we have to have nationalist police helpers in fisherwick and allocate loyalist ones to Ballykeel? So does this mean that the helpers have to identify as ‘nationalist’ and ‘unioinst’ before their tasks for the day are allocated?

    I would prefer an integrated policing service with no tribal element hard-wired in. I want society to become more integrated again over the next 10 years.

    With a proper police force you ideally know that because of its professionalism that the religion of the officer matters not. The level of professionalism should be as not to worry about whether the policeman is “my ethnicity” before. If he is professionally trained it is not an issue. The problem here is these helpers will not be trained to the same level so you begin to worry.

    The key thing in policing is not that it is exactly representative but that it have the highest level of professionalism. I fear that these ‘helpers’ will not be.

  • JD


    There has been no discussion on this thread about anybody being “helpers”. What we have been talking about here is former or present combatatants being members or senior officers in a new policing service from both a loyalist and republican view point.

    I agree with you that any proper policing service should have professionalism as its benchmark and therefore as long as recruits meet those requirements and are fully accountable for their actions, then there should not be a problem.

    “In Ballymena do we have to have nationalist police helpers in fisherwick and allocate loyalist ones to Ballykeel?”

    I dealt with this earlier in this thread, but we are not talking about new police service members purely operating in their own areas, that was IMO a comfort blanket perpertrated by unionists when this issue was raised. Once this issue has been dealt with police service members, irrespective of background, will operate whereever they are deployed.

  • JD

    “Incensed unionists are willing to police their own communities – rather than allow former IRA terrorists in PSNI uniform to patrol their areas.

    It has been claimed that former security forces, working farmers, accountants, teachers and others have revealed they are willing to become vigilantes in their areas, should there be “a need for their services”.

    New statement from FAIR’s Willie Frazier.

    Comments would be welcome.