On policing.. and certain things..

With Peter Hain’s mind on other things it was NIO minister David Hanson’s turn to wave the big stick on the BBC’s Politics Show. But, with the DUP’s Peter Robinson setting out his party’s position in one Sunday paper, it’s the reported comments of Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams which deserve a closer look, as do the comments of others..The BBC reported these comments from Adams on policing

“The British government have made a number of commitments to us and it is quite public that they are going to do certain things,” he said.

“When they do those certain things, I’m going to go to the Ard Comhairle (governing body) of our party to ask for a special Ard Fheis (meeting), so that we can consider whether we will support or what our attitude will be on the foot of a leadership resolution in relation to the PSNI.”

It seems clear from the comments that Adams regards only “those certain things” prevent him from starting the process by SF to support policing – and those certain things, he claims, have already been commited to by the British Government.

He doesn’t specify what he believes those certain things are… but we do already have the sequence, as detailed in January this year by SF’s Gerry Kelly

Essentially we agreed that in the context of:

– Agreement between the parties on the departmental model and the powers to be transferred;

– The enactment by the British government of the legislation to give full expression to this transfer of powers; and

– A DUP commitment to a short timeframe for the actual transfer of powers on policing and justice.

Then the party president would propose to the Ard Comhairle that it calls a special Ard Fheis to decide Sinn Féins position on new policing arrangements.

That situation has not changed. It is not Sinn Féin but others who are delaying progress.[added emphasis]

That was in January. In May, though, we had a glimpse at the British Government’s understanding of the situation, courtesy of Frank Millar’s interview with Peter Hain

“I think Sinn Féin do need to put themselves on the road – and I think they have started off warily down this road – to co-operating with the police. I’m not saying, ‘Join the policing board tomorrow’. But there is a commitment they have given, which I’ll expect them to honour, that when we’ve got royal assent for the Bill devolving policing and justice, they then need to take positive moves to call a conference.They’ve promised that and I’m sure that they will.”

That’s the assent for the Bill, not the actual transfer of powers? “No, until you’ve got institutions to devolve to, you can’t devolve.” And the timetable for that? “Well it’s due to get royal assent by the summer recess, by the end of July.” [added emphasis]

Mr Hain says he can’t be certain of the timing of any Sinn Féin ardfheis, and declines to speculate as to whether the party might actually be ready to join the board and endorse the PSNI in time for a November deal. He also stresses: “There’s a radical difference between trying to solve problems and difficult issues like policing, which is what we’re doing, and using those difficult issues to erect a hurdle to power-sharing. . . I agree with what Dermot Ahern said in The Irish Times on Tuesday, that there’s a danger here of continually shifting the goalposts.”

Yet he is also confident: “Provided nobody’s playing games, then it’s in Sinn Fein’s interest – since their declared objective is to get into government with the DUP and the others – to build trust and remove an excuse from unionists and everybody, because we all want them to co-operate with policing. It’s in their interests to remove that excuse which could act as a final obstacle.”

Clearly, either that understanding was wrong, or someone shifted their position.

And equally clearly, despite his other contentious views on the subject, in May Dermot Ahern was also pointing to the need for movement on policing

“But I agree with people that it follows as night follows day that if parties are going to go into an executive there has to be an understanding that there is a move toward full acceptance of policing.”

Peter Hain certainly retreated from talking about the timing of any Sinn Féin ardfheis.. and by the time he gave his Glenties speech in July, it was time to draw a distinction

“I would strongly urge the republican leadership to draw a distinction between constitutional endorsement of the structures of policing and support for the practical service of policing in the community.”

The attempt to square the circle is in no small part due to the required process involved in devolving policing powers.. the quadruple lock – even though the overall shape of the eventual ministry has been fleshed out, the Executive must be formed first.

In the meantime, given that the Sinn Féin leadership is now stating that “those certain things” are already committed to by the British Government, the question asked in that exasperating exchange in Hain’s the Preparation for Government committee remains – “what now prevents Sinn Féin from signing up to policing?”

Because the SF MLA on the committee, Raymond McCartney, didn’t seem to be sure..

Mr McFarland: As I said at the beginning, trust is a product of engagement. Trust does not exist at the outset of discussions; it is the end product of people dealing with one another.

I want to return to one of Raymond McCartney’s points. As I understand it, he said that Sinn Féin has three requirements in relation to the devolution of policing and justice: a timescale; the models to be agreed; and an agreement to transfer. Should those requirements be met, that would do the business.

Mr Raymond McCartney: No, that is not the complete list of requirements. I am not going to give the party’s complete negotiation position right now, but those requirements are only part of it. Those are the issues that we discussed at this Committee. That is what I said.[added emphasis]

And, despite the grumblings elsewhere, the DUP’s stated position hasn’t actually changed from May, again courtesy of another one of Frank Millar’s excellent interviews, this time with Ian Paisley

Ahern and Secretary of State Peter Hain have said the DUP must not raise policing as a new “pre-condition” to powersharing. Is that what he’s doing?

“I resent very much them saying I am putting forth preconditions,” the DUP leader says. “These are the conditions I set out in all my talks with them. I fought an election on it. I won my majority on this very issue. And the issue is a simple one. Number one, there could be nobody in the government of Northern Ireland except they accept the forces of law and order. And by accepting them, they hand to the state all the information they have on lawlessness.”

So this issue will have to be resolved if there is to be an agreement in November?

“Yes. Except we have the police issue resolved, there is no way forward. The talks have no future until everyone who’s going to be in the government of Northern Ireland is a complete and total supporter of the police. That doesn’t mean he can’t criticise police activity. But he’s not going to be planning activity against the police, he’s not going to withhold information, he’s not going to use his position on the Police Board to tip off fellows to clear the country. . .” [added emphasis]

Since they clearly want the issue resolved every bit as much as him, why does he suppose the British prime minister and the Taoiseach are not demanding this of Sinn Féin at this stage?

“I think they’ve been told strongly by Sinn Féin they’re not getting it.”

Peter Hain’s most recent reported comment on policing is worth repeating

“Support for the Police is fundamental in every society.”

As is the warning he sounded in the earlier interview with Frank Millar in May

“Provided nobody’s playing games, then it’s in Sinn Fein’s interest – since their declared objective is to get into government with the DUP and the others – to build trust and remove an excuse from unionists and everybody, because we all want them to co-operate with policing. It’s in their interests to remove that excuse which could act as a final obstacle.”

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  • slug

    Thanks, Pete, for that comprehensive roundup.

    Tis a bit difficult to know what it all means but sounds like Sinn Féin are ready soon to take it to their conference with a strong recommendation.

  • slug

    By the way don’t you think Hanson sounds a bit silly saying that the outlook for NI is “DIRE” if there is no agreement by Nov 24?

  • Pete Baker

    “Tis a bit difficult to know what it all means but sounds like Sinn Féin are ready soon to take it to their conference with a strong recommendation.”

    Ermm.. That wasn’t how it sounded to me, slug.. more a case of pointing at someone else.

    That quadruple lock is, and has been, key.. so to speak.

    Mind you, Raymond McCartney did seem a little confused about it all in those committee discussions..

  • McGrath

    The first part of the quadruple lock is the NI Assembly has to support devolved policing legislation and the last (new) part of the quadruple lock is the the first and second ministers must introduce said legislation jointly.

    I thought we didn’t have a (functioning) NI assembly?

    One other issue I see is even if SF sign up to policing etc, will the DUP and SF members of the policing board work with each other?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Number one, there could be nobody in the government of Northern Ireland except they accept the forces of law and order. And by accepting them, they hand to the state all the information they have on lawlessness.”

    A quite reasonable suggestion from the DUP leader. Has he handed to the state all of the information concerning any discussions he has ever held with loyalist paramilitaries ? Has his party member Gary Blair handed to the state all information pertaining to his dealings with the LVF ?

  • heck

    I think this pressure on the nationalist community on the subject of policing is indicative of an attitude among the unionist and British communities (and the Irish chattering classes!) that if nationalists would behave as good British citizens then the problems of Nor Iron would disappear.–support the psni (RUC lite), Ireland accepting the queen-SF taking there seats on Westminster -these all flow from the same mindset

    I supported the GFA because it seemed to recognize the existence of two conflicting identities in Nor Iron and tried to reconcile them-not this continuing attempt to turn nationalists into little west brits. Since the election of the DUP as unionist top dogs I now recognize the GFA is dead.

    We should recognize that the Norn Iron police service were not a bunch of Dixon of dock green types. The ruc were a bunch of sectarian thugs, many of whom aligned themselves with pro British death squads. In the 70’s the RUC interrogation centers practiced a level of torture that would make Dick Cheney proud. In the early 80’s the RUC operated a “shoot to kill” policy that was essentially state sanctioned murder. In the 80’s and 90’s RUC cooperation with loyalist death squads was institutionalized.

    The police have to prove to me that they should be supported and it gets my back up when patronizing British politicians demand this I should support the RUC/PSNI before nationalist elected representatives can exercise power. This is nonsense. (Here he goes again!) Does anyone think that African Americans in US south in the 60’s should have had to support the Alabama state troopers before they could hold elective office. This doesn’t pass the giggle test. And to ride my other hobby horse–the British politicians making these demands are people who enabled Honest Tony’s murder if 10’s of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq.

    My memory of the northern Ireland police is of a group of RUC men standing laughing with hooded loyalist thugs at a paramilitary road block across the Cavehill Road at the bottom of the Westland Road during the 1974 UWC strike.

    The people on Norn Iron need a police service to catch and deal with child molesters, people who mug old ladies and burglars. I do not thick the PSNI is it but if they want my support it is up to them to prove to me that they have changed from the RUC storm troopers who giggled and joked with murderers in 1974.

  • BogExile

    ‘…And to ride my other hobby horse.’

    Perhaps you’re underemployed galloping senselessly into rhetorical fences.

    The police in a civil society have nothing to prove to you for your support. Your support of policing is required as part of the contract which exists between any state and it citizens. This does not require the tacit acceptance of wrongdoing but as we both know very well, the PSNI is virtually emasculated by the structures and agencies set up to monitor it. There is a veritable human rights industry feeding off it (and weakening it) like a bloateed bureaucratic parasite.

    You are right that people want local policing to deal with local problems. I notice you ignore one of the most obvious and corrosive – anti social behaviour. A little less understanding and a little more action is what people in both communities want from police, not deluded historical agit prop about a force for its time which is now gone forever.

  • I Wonder

    I wonder if attitudes to policing might possibly ever be based on a consideration of how they deal with crime – instead of a 32 year old memory?

    To say the least, thats very exiguous evidence on which to to base a lifetime attitude to policing here? Perhaps if you read what you wrote you might just actually see how petty-minded it actually seems to others? Or not.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Bog Exile: “The police in a civil society have nothing to prove to you for your support. Your support of policing is required as part of the contract which exists between any state and it citizens.”

    Is that a fact? The police have to do nothing and are guaranteed the citizenry’s support in a civil society? The flow of obligation cannot be all one way — the police are enjoined by the contract as much as the citizenry and there are no shortage of ways that the police may lose that support. A favorite in Northern Ireland was selective and discriminatory enforcement of law, once upon a time. Once lost, the citizen’s faith in police should not be quick to return.

    Bog Exile: “This does not require the tacit acceptance of wrongdoing but as we both know very well, the PSNI is virtually emasculated by the structures and agencies set up to monitor it. There is a veritable human rights industry feeding off it (and weakening it) like a bloateed bureaucratic parasite.”

    Please — were it not for “past excess,” then mayhaps present controls would not be deemed necessary.

  • BogExile

    Is that a fact?

    Of course it is – the police are PART of the civil society and are composed of its members and subject to the same tiresome rules 🙂

    were it not for “past excess,” then mayhaps present controls would not be deemed necessary.

    Is the implication of your comment, yes they are hoplessly hamstrung but it’s their own darned fault?

  • heck

    “The police in a civil society have nothing to prove to you for your support.”
    What a loads of b***s. Of course the police have to earn my support. In a normal democratic society the government govern only with the consent of the people and the police only police with the consent of the policed. In a democracy the government earn that support through elections. Similary the police have to earn that support. In some countries the local sheriff is elected and earns his support that way. However they get it, support is a requirement for normal policing and any service with a link to the RUC does not have mine.
    “ Your support of policing is required as part of the contract which exists between any state and it citizens” A contact is agreed to by two or more parties and I am with holding my agreement, no matter what SF do in their mad rush to get their hands on the levers of power.
    As to the view that RUC cooperation with loyalist death squads is 32 years in the past. In the same part of belfast a few decades later the same force was cooperating with the same death squads to murded a civil rights lawyer in front of his family.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Bog Exile: “Of course it is – the police are PART of the civil society and are composed of its members and subject to the same tiresome rules.”

    So, just to beg the question, how did, say, the B-Specials fit into this little Utopian vision you’re having?

    Bog Exile: “Is the implication of your comment, yes they are hoplessly hamstrung but it’s their own darned fault? ”

    I’m not saying their hopelessly hamstrung — personally, I think that were the PSNI to actually rear up on their hind legs and act like police, they might find some cross-community support. And, to be fair, its the failures and excesses of the RUC they are, metaphorically, paying for. That said, much of the PSNI has its roots in the RUC. Should something as simple as a bureaucratic name change forgive all sins?

  • BogExile

    Dread Cthulhu:

    Heck is merely silly but you are intriguing. The Police cannot operate effectively to support people from all communities in the normal unpoliticised maintenance of law and order. They are prevented from doing so by a foul confluence of political intimidation and political correctness. SF cannot allow policing to function within their ghettoes. Imagine letting the trojan horse of normal community policing intrude into your grubby little dystopian fiefdom. At a stroke that carefully nurtured sense of alienation would be destroyed. Getting the kids off the garage roof without resort to power tools is a much more potent and relevant activity than being forced to celebrate (again) 11 suicide eaters, for example.

    But desperately needed neighbourhood beat policing is very hard to do when petrol bombs are raining on you, hence the tactical necessity for armour which simply visually reinforces the image of an occupying militaristic force. And this is preceislely the image that Republicans are desperate to preserve.

    I bet you’ve met a fair few peelers recently who seem by all accounts normal, committed and passionate about bringing the sort of policing to communities which would have an immediate and vast (therefore to a Shinner totally unacceptable) improvement to the lives of ordinary people who have no power or choice but to endure the conditions they live in. Why should good policing (to the extent such a thing exists) be the priveledge of the well off? People in republican and loyalist ghettos are entitled o the same protection and service from the PSNI and you could argue need it much more than people who have bought themselves out of that situation.