If you have already bought the Irish News today, you’ll have seen Mark Durkan’s first direct pitch on his party’s position on policing over the last five years. It notes Sinn Fein’s lack of support for the Ombudsman’s Office, and their proposals to push intelligence gathering powers out of the reach of her office in future. In other words no one with any such future a claim could have it investigated. It also claims that his party used its position inside the Policing Board to get rid of Ronnie Flanagan.
Like the whole community, I am angered by the revelations in the Police Ombudsman’s report proving collusion. While we all knew there was collusion, it is still shocking to read how the state cynically funded a serial killer.
Because the SDLP was determined to expose collusion, we insisted that the Police Ombudsman have the power to investigate the past. Her report proves that she is using those powers. Her report proves the power of the new policing institutions.
This weekend Sinn Féin debates whether to join those new policing institutions. It is an important decision and a difficult one. We know – we took the same decision five years ago. But accepting policing now no longer carries big risks. Because the SDLP has already done the heavy lifting.
Against the wishes of Tony Blair and John Reid, we made sure that the Policing Board showed Ronnie Flanagan the door. Against the wishes of Tony Blair and John Reid, we ensured that the Policing Board appointed Hugh Orde – and not a policeman from the old RUC order.
Despite much opposition from unionist politicians, we have already ensured that 86% of Patten has been implemented in just five years of Patten’s ten year programme of change. As the independent Oversight Commissioner found, the new policing institutions have done what was asked of them.
Now Sinn Féin need to do what Patten asked of them too. They need to sign on for policing.
Simply refusing to accept policing until the DUP agrees to the devolution of justice leaves Ian Paisley deciding how and when nationalists are to be protected against crime. We all need policing no matter what Ian Paisley says.
At the same time, Sinn Féin need to be honest with nationalists – and their own supporters. There hasn’t been a new breakthrough on plastic bullets. We still need a total ban on these weapons.
That’s something that the SDLP has always voted for on the Policing Board, unlike Sinn Fein who passed their seats to unionists who supported these lethal weapons.
And Tony Blair’s statement on MI5 this month isn’t “a very major step” towards getting MI5 out of Ireland as Sinn Féin claims.
In fact, Sinn Féin’s approach is allowing the British Government to set the clock back on Patten. And the truth is that Tony Blair wants MI5 to take primacy over intelligence policing in the North and he wants to prevent Nuala O’Loan investigating what they get up to.
Dealing with these issues are real challenges – but by coming on board with the SDLP they can be turned around. And, above all, we need to work together on a positive policing agenda so that old people are safe in their homes, young women are safe on the streets and young men are safe on our roads.
This week’s announcement of unprecedented Irish Government investment into the North gives us a glimpse of what working in partnership on this island can deliver. So let’s get direct rule ended.
Let’s get the Agreement working – and get working together on jobs, health and poverty. All parties signing up to policing is vital to bring this about.