Community Restorative Justice? The question arises, in part, from the absence of any reference to ‘restorative justice’ in Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams’ statements on the murder of Frank McGreevy and, in particular, his party’s apparent support for ‘tougher policing’ to deal with anti-social behaviour – the police investigation into the circumstances surrounding that murder continues. No longer funded by Chuck Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies some of the RJ schemes, but not all of them, have so far failed to gain the necessary accreditation to receive public funds for their activities. Meanwhile an Irish News report points to activities on the ground in west Belfast, where “Volunteers patrolling a west Belfast neighbourhood where a father-of-two was beaten to death last weekend are to be given a direct line to police.” Pictured below are SF MLA, Paul Maskey, “community workers” Stephen Corr and Sean Murray and Superintendent Nick Purce. It’s not the first photo of Sean Murray the Irish News has carried..
Here he is in May last year, at a meeting chaired by Martin McAleese, seemingly representing the Provisional IRA Army Council to Jackie McDonald’s representing the UDA inner council. Left to right, Sean Murray, Martin McAleese, Jackie McDonald.
Btw, Sean Murray is also a member of the Parades Review Team.
On Restorative Justice, the November report from the Criminal Justice Inspectorate on CRJ (Ireland) schemes noted some points on the Belfast-based organisation.
5.8 The Belfast schemes handle a wide range of business, which includes some serious crime and threats from dissident paramilitaries. They are well run, and great dedication is shown by the small team of staff members as well as by the volunteers. Inspectors were astonished at the commitment shown by many of those they interviewed, and there could be no question about their motivation being to help their communities, not in any sense to control them. [added emphasis]
5.10 The Belfast schemes are not in the business of patrolling or providing a security presence. They have separated themselves from the Safer Neighbourhood projects, though there is still evidence of some members participating in both. Inspectors agree that CRJI is right to pursue a policy of separation, so that their role does not become confused.
Since November, the date of the report, there have been reports of a number of incidents, and confrontations, in which “veteran republicans” have been hospitalised or, as in the most recent case, killed – although it’s worth pointing out that none of the reports directly linked those incidents to any organisational activity.
But, as the Irish News report noted
Members of the Safer Neighbourhoods Project patrol the streets of the lower Falls in a bid to clamp down on anti-social behaviour.
They have been given a mobile phone number to call should trouble erupt.
Until last night the group contacted police through the police switchboard, which had prompted complaints alleging slow response times.
Now volunteers have been given a phone number that will connect them directly to a duty inspector, who can dispatch officers if necessary.
Meanwhile, the schemes’ public responses to criminal activity has been less than encouraging.
The organisation that deals with restorative justice in the area, Colin Community Restorative Justice, says it has contacted paramilitary groups who deny involvement and has offered to mediate with the criminal gang it says is involved. Police have confirmed there are death threats and that the man the gang were after, who is married with two children, has now fled the area.
And, while the Northern Ireland Alternatives’ schemes are now accredited, there were concerns raised in May last year by the CJI report then.
“In particular there needs to be clarity about the limits beyond which delinquent or anti-social behaviour needs to be treated as criminal and reported to the police,” it stated.
“The schemes are clear that serious offences must be notified, but there has been a grey area where some of the judgements made have not been entirely comfortable.”
Another point to note is that, although no longer funding Restorative Justice Groups, Atlantic Philanthropies continues to fund other organisations here.