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?