Sinn Fein should not give unconditional support to police

Interesting critical take from Tommy McKearney who argues that Sinn Fein should not be considering ‘unconditional support’ for the police in either Northern Ireland or the Republic.


  • Henry94

    It is not helpful at all in my opinion to mix-up the issues of policing in the north and in the south.

    There is a political culture in the Republic that demands unequivocal backing for, rather than critical supervision, of the Gardaí.
    This type of unconditional support for policing has not benefited the southern public.

    Yes there is and there is a clear need for a process of supervision and accountability. But there are no questions of legitimacy or any dispute over where authority an accountability should be exercised.

    In the north the issue is more complex for republicans and that is why it is necessary to get it right. You can’t have a situation where you support the police in doing some things and not others. You need to have a way of addressing the problems without undermining the police.

    It is reasonable to approve of measures curbing dangerous driving and burglars for example but this shouldn’t extend to protecting John Reid’s border guards or the enforcement of anti working-class legislation. It would be helpful, moreover, if northern republicans were to make this distinction clear.

    It would be helpful if it was clear what is meant by anti-working class legislation!

    The way to oppose laws you don’t like is by political campaigning. That can involve refusing to obey them but you do need to be specific.

  • Nathan

    I don’t think any Irish citizen should necessarily give blind unconditional support to the forces of the state, whether in the Irish Republic or N.Ireland. Never mind Sinn Fein.

    The Gardai may well consider themselves as the ethical and moral guardian of the Irish people, but to a lot of us they are largely unaccountable and secretive in the same way that the Irish Secret Service is today – the Morris Report covers this in great detail.

    Ever since independent Ireland came into being, the Gardai have had thorny episodes where their behaviour has left alot to be desired. Moreover, they’re ever so keen to edit out their past misdeeds. Very similar to the RUC Crown forces of the past when you think about it.

    Thats why the critical take adopted by Tommy McKearney is the best way forward. Irish people of whatever description need to remain skeptical of all those individuals who have conferred them, special powers which have the capacity for mayhem and abuse. Thats not to say we shouldn’t appreciate the good deeds and acts of service that they do for us on a day-to-day basis.

  • Tommy is almost right, but not quite. What he SHOULD have said is that having the IRA’s proxies involved in policing in any way is unacceptable to any democrat. Naturally those who worship at the shrine of the GFA won’t see it that way – but gangsters doing policing is hardly compatible with any recognised democratic standard.

  • Occasional Commentator

    The police anywhere in the world, just like the nurses, the doctors, the lawyers and pretty much everybody in the public or private sector, is stuffed with incompetent and corrupt people aided and abetted by decent colleagues who turned a blind eye. It’s thoroughly shameful that we think we’re so civilised. Even the famous English police just executed Menendez in their own capital and none of those that allowed it to happen have resigned.

    But we humans are slowly but surely improving, as long as everybody including the politicians argues their corner constantly.

    McKearney: “local authority would most likely rest with a DUP minister”

    Well, it’s an Irishman with a mandate. He/she has as much right as that plonker McDowell.

    McKearney: “the idea that a left leaning, Irish republican party can simply endorse policing per se is surely mistaken.”

    Everybody, no matter what their slant, should endorse policing. The question is whether a particular police force and it’s accountability is fit for the job. What exactly does he mean by “per se”?

    Everybody should be much more cynical about the police, and if this is the point McKearney is making, then I support him. But I think he’s mixing up a few different ideas.

  • John East Belfast

    Everyone should give unconditional support to the police when they impartially uphold the law and act within the law themselves.

    For most democrats the latter is taken as read on the assumption that any policeman acting corruptly should be dealt with.

    ie we dont want/need to qualify our support for the police.

    The problem with Republicans is that they could not make the statement I have above about the PSNI and to some extent the Garda and the reason for it is two fold

    1. Republicans have, throughout their mix, varying degrees of criminality and hence the Police are seen as a threat.

    Henry 94, who appears to be a moderate Republican, has previously on Slugger supported cross border smuggling and said it was acceptable.

    Other Republicans would undoubtedly support punishment beatings and other activities that are in the “cruel and unusual punishment categories”.

    Then there are of course those who would support and carry out acts of murder against undesirables such as informers.

    Others motivated by financial greed will rob banks.

    2. Conferring acceptance of the Police further gives legitimacy to the NI State and its laws – even more so than taking ministerial office to represent its voters.

    ie the problem with Policing in NI is not the Police or the Governments – it is Republicans.

  • Occasional Commentator

    John East Belfast,
    I can’t think of any police force that actually does a consistently good job. Never mind any Irish police forces, what about in England or in the USA? There are some unionists who will have to get over their sycophantic support for the police (I have heard unionists saying this themselves). The police are just as likely to be incompetent or corrupt as any other profession – the difference is that a mistake by the police can do a lot more harm.

    Why do I suspect, as with almost everything else, the Scandinavians have probably got it right?

  • nmc

    I don’t believe Republicans have any more criminal tendencies than Loyalists. Everything JEB has said about Republicans, I could also say about Loyalists, I’m sure few here will dispute that the UDA sells drugs, extorts money, smuggles fags and fuel, and occasionally dish out “cruel and unusual punishment”s to anyone who steps on their toes, including informers.

    The problem most Republicans have with the police is that it was always a Loyalist force, and as recently proven, was colluding with Loyalist gangs. These are facts.

    Unfortunately, many Loyalists have an idea in their head that all Republicans are criminals, and our complaints about the police are simply that they prevent us having our fun. Not true. The RUC was a sectarian police force, not every officer was sectarian, but there were many who were, and catholics got treated extremely poorly by these criminals/officers. Having said that, we all need a police force, of course, so what to do..?

    Unconditional support for the PSNI/RUC/NYPD is a ridiculous suggestion, it’s like saying we simply allow them to do as they please, even carrying out criminal activity, and give up our right to complain about it.

    What we need, IMHO, is some kind of a plan, whereby the police are accepted by everyone and it is the responsibility of SF to sort that situation out.

    I personally am fed up living in the middle of madness with no police to deal with everyday offences like underage drinkers, vandalism and the occasional assault, and the thing that gets to me the most is I’m pretty sure the two Gerry’s don’t risk being assaulted in their day to day lives. They don’t need the police, and they don’t seem to notice that the rest of us do.

  • eranu

    dont go into nit picking details of how good a job the police do in certain fields. this is a simple question. you are either on the side of law and order or on the side of criminals. make your choice.
    as described by JEB, the problem for republicans is that they are on the side of criminals and everyone else is on the side of law and order.

  • mickhall


    It is simply not possible to get policing correct in the north, to believe otherwise is to tilt at windmills. It is not the job of irish republicans to support the PSNI or any other British police force, unless you wish to end up being regarded as capo’s. Surly it is the duty of Irish republicans to work for the abolition of the PSNI not to act as its crutch.

    There is no law set in stone that a political party has to support the police, I find it weird that SF is acting as if there is one by putting this matter at the top of its agenda, talk about how high.



  • nmc

    as described by JEB, the problem for republicans is that they are on the side of criminals and everyone else is on the side of law and order.

    So you clearly dispute the existence of the UDA and Loyalist criminals in general? Wake up my friend.

  • eranu

    nmc, i was thinking of main irish parties. yes add UDA etc to the criminal side.

    so nmc, what side are you on? law and order (police) or criminals?

  • Alan

    There are too many demands for unconditional support or unconditional opposition here.

    What we need is for the police to be given the benefit of the doubt and to have systems in place for when things go awry. To my mind we have had those systems for a considerable time and SF and republicans should have moved already.

    CRJ, like the concerned residents groups, are vestiges of a militant anti-state republicanism that is now an anachronism and a drag on progress.

    Perhaps, to paraphrase Bruno Bettelheim, what we need is a “good enough” police force.

  • DK

    MickHall: “There is no law set in stone that a political party has to support the police”

    Except in Northern Ireland, where all parties need to reach agreement on everything or the spiral of opt-outs will collapse everything else – whether it is police, cross-border bodies, the assembly, super-councils or whatever. It’s either everyone or no-one here, in case you hadn’t noticed.

    Sinn Fein need to decide how they will best serve their electorate with administer policing. And the aim should be to help – not destroy. There needs to be some sort of police force, and the PSNI is it.

  • nmc

    I’m on my side eranu, but I respect the need for a police force.

  • Henry94


    Henry 94, who appears to be a moderate Republican, has previously on Slugger supported cross border smuggling and said it was acceptable.

    I have never expressed support for smuggling.

    In any contribution I have made to the smuggling debate I have emphasized two points.

    First that it was an inevitable result of a border which was unsupported by the people living near it on both sides and second that the solution was tax harmonisation and not pointless “crackdowns”.


    There is no law set in stone that a political party has to support the police

    Not if they are a sideshow but for a party to be in government it is necessary. If you are to make laws that the police will have to enforce then their must be an acceptence of the legitimacy of that force.

    For Sinn Fein to support the police there will need to be changes to the police and probably changes to the Sinn Fein position. It has to be done.

  • mickhall

    Indeed Henry,
    but would that still make SF a republican party, or would it have morphed into something else as the British wish.

    It seems to me the only cross border activity is smuggling, as the DUP have put the block on all else. I wonder if there is an EU grant for it, lets hope so, as every one has to earn a living 😉

  • Peking

    An excellent contribution at 1-51.

    Henry 94
    Let’s not kid ourselves here, there is smuggling across all frontiers whether or not the frontier itself is supported by the people living beside it. Either you support Irish cross-border smuggling – which includes the smuggling of people, drugs, toxic fuel waste, cigarettes etc -or you don’t. Your contribution on policing actually verges on the realistic, except you know better than I do “the community” will support policing just as soon the Shinners allow them to.

    Mick Hall
    The usual type of rant taken verbatim from the socialist textbook on what-position-to-adopt-to-any-given-situation. That sort of crap might sound good to the woefully naive but simply cannot work when applied to real life. Unfortunately, real life is the one we have to deal with. Do extreme socialists ever try thinking for themselves once in a while?

  • George

    “this is a simple question. you are either on the side of law and order or on the side of criminals. make your choice.”

    But considering the majority of loyalist terrorist leaders in the last decade were in the employ of the security forces, which side is the criminal one?

    Also, police in dictatorships stand for “law and order”, police in democracies protect and serve the community.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    In a democracy, we cannot pick and choose which laws we want to accept or if we do we pay the consequences ( or should do).

    The problem is that if we choose not to accept them and to wilfully break them, then someone has to make sure that we do not profit over those who do abide by them. The only way this can be achieved is by using the forces of the democratic state that enacted the laws.

    Any other solution is anarchy – it is not acceptable to say I do not like the police force or how it is run and will ignore them (or worse). It is acceptable to say that I do not accept how the police force is run and to try to attempt to change it by democratic means. If you do not have a manadate that has enough votes to enact the change, or to persuade others to, then there is NO ALTERNATIVE but to support them as they are.

    Minorities should not be able to dictate to majorities in a democracy.

  • eranu

    george, i know what you’re trying to say, that sometimes the police arent totally clean. but they are still the side of law and order. flipping the idea over, if you saw michael stone helping a little old lady across the street you wouldnt think he was a good guy because of that one act would you?

    this is black or white call. any right thinking person supports the police. to me a party in ireland that is actually opposed to the police is being completely ridiculus. humouring them by taking what they say seriously is equally as silly.

  • GPJ

    The only indication of a good police force is one which employs less criminals than it catches.

    The PSNI / RUC is still unacceptable to republicans because it has not reformed itself from a official loyalist/unionist military force.

    Collusion is not an illusion, nor has it been whitewashed from our memories by cosmetic reforms.

  • Anyone else really fed up with people complaining for the sake of complaining?

    “Collusion is not an illusion”

    At least try and put the Gospel according to Gerry into your own words!! You’re not even trying here.

    “it has not reformed itself”

    With all the changes that have been made (the name, the ombudsman, discriminatory recruitment practices and much more) what more is left? Perhaps you’d prefer if they had held the door open at the Northern Bank or closed the border roads so the smugglers wouldn’t have to deal with other cars on the road? Maybe the next time they’re attacked by a mob they can help out by picking up the fallen bricks that missed and beating themselves with them.

    Catch yourself on.

  • eranu

    i wonder if part of the problem in republican areas (actually everywhere in NI) is that no one actually knows what is normal anymore. since you’d have to go back to the middle 60s to have experience of a society where police operated normally (bear with me!) and the idea that you could not accept the police, and that was ok, didnt exist. so NI would have been the same as any other western country then (stay with me).

    to people under 50 however, normality is that the police are bad and shouldnt be allowed into your area. reversing this view so that the police are the good guys might be a similar shock as saying to a flat earther that the earth is actually round!

    from my own experience moving from belfast to dublin years ago. when i first saw an irish soldier waiting at a bus stop in full uniform i thought it was really weird. surely he should be in an armoured car! thats what i thought was normal. but i was the one who had actually got it wrong.


  • GPJ


    look around, outside your cosy red white and blue tinted world, where everything would be great if it wasn’t for us republicans, consider these criticisms of the PSNI/RUC :

    That collusion with loyalist paramilitaries has now been acknowledged by the state, which has made unionists re evaluate the role played by the so called forces of law and order.

    That the PSNI/RUC is still full of those who colluded or turned a blind eye to collusion.

    That the UVF may as well be called an auxillary branch of the PSNI special branch as so many of its members were paid by public money to kill nationalists/republicans and extort and corrupt the protestant communities.

    So Beano, you obviously are quite happy to have this state of affairs in place and to let loyalist criminals get paid by the state to murder, deal drugs and murder, while being employed by the PSNI.

    Catch a grip on the reality of the situation, but as an apologist for state terrorists I cannot expect indepth analysis of the corrupt state of the PSNI/RUC in 2006.

  • George

    for me it is not a black and white issue.

    I of course must stress that I am drawing a distinction between unconditional support and support.

    In reality, everyone’s support for the police is conditional and I am no different. I will support my police as long as they protect and serve my community as best they can and aren’t the monkey for some other organ grinder.

    The fate of the RIC during the Irish War of Independence is a perfect example of what happens to a police force that loses the support of its community.

    Organisations like police forces have to earn respect and support.

    Having said all that, somehow it seems very strange to blame a community for refusing to support a police force.

    If a force that calls itself the police doesn’t have the support of the community, it de facto isn’t the police.

    How NI gets around that one, I haven’t a clue (I know Greenflag: repartition).

    On “unconditional”:

    I look at unconditionally supporting a police force a bit like your average Irish Catholic unconditionally supporting their local church even when it has failed to address its own criminal past.

    Just like a person shouldn’t sweep child abuse under the carpet in the name of God, police failings shouldn’t be swept under the carpet in the name of a meaningless concept such as law and order.

    Unconditional support is the same as blind faith. The rebel in me would go so far as to say “unconditional” is just another word for “surrender”.

  • “you should give surrender support to the police”?

    That makes no sense! I guess your inner rebel is wrong, George. It’s not another word for surrender 😉

    Seriously though, you can’t support ANY organisation of human beings unconditionally. But if a political party can’t support the police in doing their proper job then society and that party have a serious problem.

  • GPJ – I presume you can refer me to specific cases of PSNI collusion with terrorists?

  • heck

    I keep bringing up this analogy but either you guys think it is off the wall or it is too close to home and you would rather ignore. It seems to me that the attitude of nationalist communities toward the PSNI/UVF is the same as that of black communities in the south eastern US toward their local police/KKK.

    To expect nationalist communities to support the PSNI is no different to expecting African Americans in Philadelphia, Mississippi (made famous by the movie Mississippi Burning) to support their local sheriff. If anyone had demanded that blacks should support the local police before they could exercise political power they would rightfully be called racist.

    This support must be earned –not demanded- and as in the US south this can take decades.

  • Pete Baker

    Talking about this issue as a demand for “unconditional support” of the police is, I would suggest, a deliberate misrepresentation of the issue.

    Support for the rule of law is a demand for all members of society to be equally amenable to, and equally accountable to, the law – whoever they are and whichever political party, or other organisation, they are members of – that’s an entirely different proposal than what is being dismissed by Tommy McKearney, although his suggestion seems to be that a “left-leaning Irish republican party” should also reject that as well.

  • German-American

    Following on from heck’s point about support needing to be earned rather than demanded: Perhaps there’s something to be said for a policy of pragmatic hypocrisy on the part of SF and the police. Regardless of what happens at Stormont and Westminster, whether ordinary nationalists and republicans like or dislike the PSNI is going be determined at the level of their local neighborhood based on their interaction with the PSNI personnel in the area. It seems to me that it makes eminent sense for SF to (discreetly) pursue a “try before you buy” policy where it informally engages with local PSNI officials and officers on matters of mutual local interest while formally withholding official endorsement of policing arrangements in toto.

    Presumably if this goes well it would help build support for ultimate party endorsement of policing arrangements through the special Ard Fheis, and prevent a party row over the issue. I guess though that the whole “quadruple lock” idea may have bollixed the sequencing of events so thoroughly that while there might be progress at the local level, events at the Assembly level would be indefinitely stalled in a “you first, no you first” scenario.

    It seems reminiscent of the decommisioning stalemate, with the difference that the DUP is much less likely than the UUP to jump first. Also, it’s possible that SF leadership may not be able to keep party members in the dark as to the twists and turns of the strategy, at least not to the extent that the IRA is alleged to have done with its members. Given that, the climate would be biased toward SF adopting a relatively hardline public position in order to keep everyone on board — which I guess may be why there’s a “quadruple lock” in the first place.

  • IJP

    Nobody should give ‘unconditional support to the police’.

    What they should do is give unconditional acceptance to the fact that there is one, and only one, service (in the case of NI, the PSNI) which has legitimate responsibility for policing.

    Where it makes mistakes in that responsibility, it is up to the representatives of the all the people (the politicians) to sort it out.

    All of which is quite basic Republicanism, in its genuine form, I’d have thought!

    How on earth anyone denying that all of the people should have access to a single policing service can claim to be ‘Republican’ simply doesn’t make sense to me, and never did.

  • German-American

    One more thing: Maybe there’s something in the Northern Ireland situation or in the UK system of law enforcement that makes this difficult to impossible, but assuming that the “super-councils” actually get off the ground and start doing something useful, and that the Assembly remains stalled, why not devolve substantial control of policing to the councils and in effect have different police forces for different jurisdictions?

    After all, this is basically what is done in the US, and it seems to work reasonably well: The quality of policing and justice in general is determined in large part by the competence and fairness of the local police, district attorney, and court system. As a result jurisdictions tend to get the police force they deserve, based on the competence of the local politicians and the willingness of the local voters to hold them accountable, provide adequate funding for the police, and so on.

    To be sure, such local control can also lead to local corruption (both of the police and of politicians) and to the existence of “untouchable” criminals protected by those police and politicians; lots of major US cities have had this problem at one time or another. But that seems a solvable problem in the long run, assuming the willingness of voters to vote out bad local politicians and the existence of a higher-level police and justice system that can step in as a last resort.

  • mickhall

    Mick Hall
    The usual type of rant taken verbatim from the socialist textbook on what-position-to-adopt-to-any-given-situation. That sort of crap might sound good to the woefully naive but simply cannot work when applied to real life. Unfortunately, real life is the one we have to deal with. Do extreme socialists ever try thinking for themselves once in a while?

    Posted by Peking on Jul 26, 2006

    Come back to me when you have the balls to use your own name.

    Mick Hall

  • Mal One

    Firstly, Tommy is a self confessed murderer.His contribution to the glorious struggle was to murder a part time UDR soldier on a doorstep whilst the part timer was doing his other job as a postman (see the TV documentary “Provos”). Tommy I guess has been trying to excuse this to himself ever since.

    Back to the police. How many PSNI officers were even born when our troubles started in 1969?
    Not many I would guess since they would now be 37+.
    If they were eligible to join the RUC in 1969 they would have been at least 18 then so now they would be at least 55. How many PSNI officers do you know who are this age?
    To paraphrase Gerry “are we going to blame the current young men and women in the PSNI for all our ills and continue to blame them forever more?”

    Does it ever occur to the whingers that a good many of the PSNI just want to be police officers and do the right thing for all people?


  • nationalist

    lets not forget who the RUC/PSNI/SPECIAL BRANCH is…..[QUOTE]In October 1988 Gerard Casey’s home in Rasharkin was raided by the RUC. While there they removed a legally held shotgun and sketched an internal map of the home before taking him off to Castlereagh. On April 4th 1989 loyalists entered the home and shot dead Gerard Casey as he slept with his wife.[QUOTE]
    [QUOTE]Special Branch, along with MI5 and the FRU (Force Research Unit), have been waging a war against the republican and nationalist community – they have armed, controlled and directed loyalists and where not, deployed the SAS and other covert units through the Task Coordinating Group (TCG). In the course of this many lives have been lost including members of their own forces, ordinary Protestants, those whom they recruited as informers and then had them killed by other informers when they were no longer of any use. [QUOTE]