Unintended consequences of CRJ?

Garret FitzGerald, in his Irish Times op ed slot, looks at the outstanding business (subs needed) from December 2004, and its subsequent outworking. It makes for timely and fascinating reading. Cycling back to just before the Leeds Castle talks he outlines five issues that remained outstanding from the Trimble/Adams era of Unionist/Nationalist democratic encounter.Specifically:

…unequivocal Sinn Féin/IRA repudiation of criminality; decommissioning of arms; government action in respect of members of the IRA “on the run”; explicit Sinn Féin/IRA acceptance of and involvement with the PSNI in respect of policing; and, finally, the problem of “restorative justice” schemes in the North.

His precise recollection records that:

…the two governments proposed to the IRA a wording to be used that would explicitly and unambiguously repudiate criminality. Significantly, this was rejected by the IRA, which omitted this phrase from its response to the two governments. The two national leaders appeared to condone this omission, but the PD leadership – it was in government and close to the issues – was not prepared to go along with this. So two days later Michael McDowell publicly challenged the dropping of the criminality assurance by the IRA. Thus exposed from within the Irish Government, Mr Blair and Mr Ahern were forced to act and, as a result, later in 2005 the IRA finally faced reality by repudiating criminality in explicit terms.

He clips in fairly short order to the issue of CRJ. He begins by noting, as Breige Gadd had back in November the widely accepted parameters for Community Restorative Justice, which were primarily to bring together “victims and perpetrators of various forms of anti-social behaviour to work in repairing relationships and compensating victims of crime”. However:

…on January 28th, 2004, anticipating the ending of IRA “knee-capping” and other brutal forms of local paramilitary justice, Sinn Féin’s Caitríona Ruane announced her party’s intention to set up in Co Down what she described as “restorative justice groups” specifically “in order to offer an alternative to the PSNI”.

He further notes that “Sinn Féin acceptance of the PSNI may now be postponed until after the DUP agrees to devolution”. He continues, “it seems highly significant that the final version of the consultation document, published on December 5th, does not require that these restorative justice bodies communicate on crime matters with the police”. Although this allows for an extra judicial provenance to CRJ’s work that does not occur anywhere else in the world, it is legally facilitated by an ambiguity in the British Criminal Law Act of 1967. FitzGerald continues:

There is, moreover, no provision for an overall regulatory body for these schemes, and there is no provision for an independent complaints body. Furthermore, the official Criminal Justice Inspectorate does not have power to look at individual cases handled by restorative justice groups or to call for papers and persons, so it could not invigilate their activities.

Finally, and almost as an aside, he writes:

I have in front of me a number of leaflets issued locally by these schemes. About half of the names of those involved in the schemes – they are printed on the back of the leaflets – are those of people with IRA records. In one instance the telephone number that residents are invited to ring is an 087 mobile number in the South. Some of these groups have been established in Border counties where smuggling and crime are rife. We are entitled to ask what steps our Government has taken to secure assurance from the British government that, in its concern to satisfy Sinn Féin/IRA demands, it does not leave a law and order vacuum in parts of the North, including some Border counties. This is a matter where the State [ie the Republic] has a vital national interest.

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

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