SF and Policing and Justice

Sinn Féin’s strategy on Policing and Justice has largely been to focus on the St Andrew’s Agreement, and policing as totemic issue to republicans. The details of that have been debated somewhat endlessly on this site already, but the key point is that this effectively reduces the argument to a semantic one split along sectarian lines.Returning to fundamentals, Republicanism must ultimately be about better government. Nationalism must be about the idea that Irish people are better equipped to govern themselves than anyone else. In order for this to be the case, new powers devolved are not enough: they must be a vehicle for new policy. The discussion paper on which powers would be devolved lists a wide range of powers that could be transferred, including the ability to specific new offences; devolution in itself would give control of both the purse strings and appointments. Together that would form a powerful platform to get new ideas implemented.

Unfortunately, Sinn Fein does not seem to have many. The policy section of the website produces only three papers on “Justice & the Community”, one of which dates form the 90’s. Similarly, the Sinn Féin Manifesto for the 2007 Dáil Election can be vague on the issues: Ensure robust enforcement of the law and prosecution of offenders involved in criminal behaviour hardly counts as an actionable policy. Where they are strong or specific tends to be when dealing with the accountability of the system – create an Ombudsman, organise policing partnerships, implement a system for victims liaisons. On initiatives to actually tackle crime however, they are largely silent.

But the accountability mechanisms in the North have largely been built. Recent events in West Belfast have sharply illustrated the need for new ideas to tackle anti-social and violent crime. Dissident Republicans can no longer be dealt with by the threat of swift reprisals by the Provisionals. There is a pressing need within their own communities for new ideas on crime. There is a second level to this failure. Regardless of the spin, the figures for supporting the transfer of powers are fairly healthy, even among Unionists. Accountability has never been a particularly hot button issue among Unionists, but law and order issues gain reliable support. Presenting devolution of Policing and Justice in this context allows SF to attempt to attempt to build support for the move outside their own community, set the direction of policy and expose the paucity of Unionist thinking.

This after all, was the promise of devolution for Republicans: the ability to shape the government and win new converts through superior argument. That is true outreach. It is perhaps naive to think that an argument on the merits would be successful in the face of a DUP apparently hell bent on causing Nationalism as much pain as possible. But it is an important plank that needs built if we are to move beyond current sectarian silos. Republicans need to get on it.

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    Just thought of the consistancy of disgruntlements over the years.
    Here’s the main ones….

    Home Rule
    Civil Rights Movement
    Sunningdale
    The New Ireland Forum
    Anglo Irish Agreement

    Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution

    Hume/Adams Talks
    Talks about talks
    Ceasefire ‘Permanent’
    IRA disbandment
    Good Friday/Belfast Agreement
    Decomissioning
    St Andrew’s Agreement
    SF’s recognition of the PSNI

    And now the Devolvement of Peace and Justice powers from Westminister.

  • DC

    Kensei, I am fairly supportive of devolving these powers but in an equal measure am fairly concerned that the DUP might not be suitably placed to legislate in a modern and fair way. I say this in respect of the fact that Peter Robinson is sympathetic to capital punishment and hard-right on justice issues – as people in NI know.

    What changes to the law do you think SF can bring or work together to effect an outcome suitable to themselves and NI bearing in mind the more anal aspects of the DUP towards hard punitive measures.

  • Kensei

    What changes to the law do you think SF can bring or work together to effect an outcome suitable to themselves and NI bearing in mind the more anal aspects of the DUP towards hard punitive measures.

    There will be a follow up to this post. I’m not concerned with the DUP pursuing hard right policies though: the mutual veto ensures we can only move forward with consensus. Even if FF or FG moved up here and were successful, I can’t see them supporting that kind of agenda.

  • RepublicanStones

    DC raises a valid point. Why is all the focus on whether the Shinners are fit or ready for having a say in P&J;powers, unionisms record of adminstering P&J;would have made BJ Vorster blush.

  • Kensei

    DC raises a valid point. Why is all the focus on whether the Shinners are fit or ready for having a say in P&J;powers, unionisms record of adminstering P&J;would have made BJ Vorster blush.

    Because its Unionism that holds the cards in the devolution of it, basically. So they get a pass.

    In any case, I have always maintained that the person in charge is an overblown issue. Any bad decision can be called in by a petition of concern in the Assembly, and the committees are fairly powerful. There is a certain amount of movement the Minister is allowed, but as we’ve seen so far, you’ll be blocked from doing too much that the other side doesn’t like.

    But point is – Unionism tends to respond well to a tough stance on crime. But that is hardly consigned to Unionism, and in a perverse sense, shooting someones kneecaps for joy riding is a tough stance on crime. There is a chance, with good ideas to forge new alliances, and change perceptions. That is the hard work of “outreach”. But it appears SF haven’t given it much thought.

  • DC

    I have no doubt that all 4 parties could all conceivably lurch to the right over policing and justice. After all the police are the biggest toys of the state re effecting changes and visibly executing results on the ground, the temptation is getting used to the bringing about of such tangible benefits. These benefits could be attributed to party policy.

    I’m all for tough on crime but also tough on the causes of crime which usually rests in more complex interventionist actions between intermediate agencies between state and member of public.

    It’s just that underneath all the nicey-nicey of the SDLP and UUP there is that underlying conservative element that would be easy to veer to the right. And if the DUP hype up the righteousness of the far-right you are left wondering whether there will be any action on the causes of crime.

    New Labour was a fine example of this, with prisons over-crowded.

    I was reading too that Northern Ireland’s prisons are disproportionately populated with people who have defaulted on credit arrangements and other silly low-level breaches that perhaps this is indicative of the knee jerk reactions. I wouldn’t expect any creativity in the judicial area in as much as there is little creativity in solving what appears to be a quite solvable problem re the ongoing Stormont deadlock.

  • DC

    …profile some of the unionist policy writers in Stormont and you might find they support the Republicans Stateside in the upcoming elections there – nuff said.

  • truth and justice

    Sinn fein are hurting the everyday nationalist on the ground when they should be dealing with bread and butter issues at the executive, P&J;will come at some stage so whats the problem.

  • “There is a pressing need within their own communities for new ideas on crime”

    Thats an understatement….

    In my opinion there is an element (growing) in society fearless of law and order and totally unsupportive of it – in both communities.

    Of course you just have to You Tube car jackers around belfast to get a flavour of the sort of antics that go on.

    Make a fuss and get stabbed in the head with a screw driver.

    seriously worrying behaviour.

    ‘Lack of respect’ is the first hurdle to overcome.

    Look at the shooting of Rhys Jones – the guy on the bike was going to shoot another person for simply walking across a peice of ground. Turf Wars what is the place coming to – I mean he thought that was acceptable behaviour otherwise he wouldn’t have got hold of a gun, learnt how to use it, joined a gang and ultimately ruined the rest of his life not to mention destroy the life of another family –

    Surely discipline begins at home – this problem is massive…. everywhere

  • DC

    Given the fluctuations in the FTSE and markets, I wonder how the likes of G4S (security services), who have set up a new base here in NI, are doing – G4S is in the FTSE100.

    Any concerns there with having private-sector services linked to the market in relation to outsourcing options in the criminal justice – prison services sector??

  • New Yorker

    How do you counter the view that SF is actively connected to murder gangs as recently as the McCartney and Quinn murders? Do you sweep it under the carpet or take it as an indicator of SF’s real position on issues of justice and human rights?

  • ellie

    How can a party with members who have openly admitted to being in an illegal terrorist organistation have any say over policing and justice?

    These were the people who murdered many police officers and openly advocated their followers to have nothing to do with the then RUC and for some time the PSNI also. Many of Sinn Feins’ members and followers are convicted terrorists and Gerry Kelly served time for the murder of a police officer. Now they have done a complete U turn and want the devolution of policing and justice.

    It is absolutley ridiculous!

  • ellie

    it will happen because, to quote a well-known local political/legal commentator, we live in a Kafkaesque world.

    You see the fact that these people murdered lawyers, court officials, judges and police must be cast from your mind.

    That is then, this is now.

    That they have now moved right of Atilla the Hun on questions of law and order should merely be remarked upon as interesting, in so far as it represents their continuing assault on human rights, although from a different angle from that that went before.

  • Steve

    Ellie / New Yorker

    To a whole section of society the RUC and the PSNI and all there sundry forms and hangers on are the terrorists

    To them it is your side that has the connection to terorists

  • muggers,car thiefs, rapists and paedophiles form a “section of society”. People tend to regard them with contempt.

    They are also more than capable of recognising a terrorist when they see one. Decent folk will shun them, others I grant you may even vote for them.

  • Steve

    Slievenanee

    Yes but why do you ascribe yourself the role as decent people while the whole time supporting your own terrorists?

    You no more have a claim to the high moral ground then PIRA does

  • New Yorker

    Steve

    Suppose you had a loved one murdered in Canada. Would you want someone who thinks it is OK to murder in charge of the case?

  • Steve

    New Yorker

    Isn’t that the entire basis of Capitol Punishment?

    Besides this isnt about the day to day minutae of the police service its about the overall structure and intent of whats supposed to be a public service

    Why does it matter so much to SF and nationalists in general? My guess is because they were used as a weapon against an innocent population in naked state practiced sectarianism that should never have been allowed.

  • Steve

    New Yorker

    Isn’t that the entire basis of Capitol Punishment?

    Besides this isnt about the day to day minutae of the police service its about the overall structure and intent of whats supposed to be a public service

    Why does it matter so much to SF and nationalists in general? My guess is because they were used as a weapon against an innocent population in naked state practiced sectarianism that should never have been allowed.

  • bona fide

    ellie /slievenanee – to pretty much reiterate what Steve has said (I hope I don’t misrepresent you here, Steve, – please correct me if I do).
    You say “illegal terrorist organistation” – others say “paramilitary organisation” – big difference. Some say, “RUC, UDR” etc etc, others could equally call them “terrorists”…OK, they’re legal terrorists, but that hardly makes it palatable. Can’t you appreciate that things aren’t as black and white as you try to paint??
    Can you really not see the massive difference? And the appalling fact, that to the some who see the whole picture, that we’ve been watching decades of state sponsored murder? I thought we are supposed to have been living in a modern civilised society? Surely, if the state can’t behave in such a way, then surely no one can be too surprised when citizens rebel and look for a way out, look for a bit of equality. Look at conflict anywhere in the world, you’ll find the same thing. Waken up and smell the coffee. Stop demonising just one side.
    .

  • Steve

    no complaints bona fide

  • bona fide

    I’ll set aside for the moment that characters such as steve don’t display any of the ‘grey’ that you accuse me of lacking. In his strange world the republican murder gangs inhabited the high moral ground, weeping as they were forced to pull the trigger or plant the bomb; all in the name of equality. Whereas the agents of perfidious Albion revelled in the kill.

    As for your contention of “decades of state sponsored murder”.

    Utter nonsense.

    For most of the Troubles the police numbered around 13000 and the army 20000 plus. Republican terrorists, loyalist terrorists and the loons circulating around them at best numbered in the hundreds.

    Terrorist organisations were all also effectively penetrated by security force intelligence. If you honestly believe that the state intended murder why were they so bad at it?

    The truth is that the state attempted to deal with the terrorist campaign by lawful means. Sometimes individuals over stepped, cock-ups were made and tragic events occurred.

    Let me make it simple for you. It was a daily occurrence for known terrorists to be stopped by the police or army right across Northern Ireland. If they were not then breaking the law they walked away. Whenever an individual police officer or soldier made themselves vulnerable by being identified as they went about their daily lives the terrorists took the opportunity to try to kill.

    Try to look at the history of the Troubles with some degree of common sense and think it over as you have that coffee you seem so fond of.

  • Steve

    Slieve

    Ochh aye and Finucane and Nelson were about their murderous duties when they were killed by the official puppets of the state forces

  • New Yorker

    Steve

    You said “Besides this isnt about the day to day minutae of the police service its about the overall structure and intent of whats supposed to be a public service” That is exactly the point and what is at stake here. If you have people with influence on the overall structure who think murder is OK, the result will be some murderers walk free and there will probably be more murder. You would not put up with murder-friendly people overseeing your police and justice system in Canada. Why should people in Northern Ireland settle for anything less?

    Your mouthing of mopery is inappropriate and unhelpful. People in Northern Ireland are mired in the past and that causes them many problems. Do not encourage them, if you want to help.

  • steve

    New Yorker

    You accusing me on mopery thats a laugh

    The structure of the ministry alone is proof enough that SF nisn’t interested in changing the PSNI from a killer onionist freindly organiztion into a republican killer freindly organisation but into a simple ACCOUNTABLE organisation.

  • steve

    I note that you choose to ignore my point that if the state was sponsoring murder, and given the state’s resources, why were so few terrorists (or if you like freedom fighters) killed?

    Rather you cite one example where, aside from innuendo, nothing has been proved. Or can you list the police/military who have stood trial?

    May I have the temerity to suggest you cast your withering gaze towards Canada’s police organisations? Amnesty International have condemned your police for their racist attitudes; attitudes that have resulted in many cases of police brutality and killings.

  • Richard James

    “And now the Devolvement of Peace and Justice powers from Westminister.”

    No one is talking about devolving the power to make war and peace to the Assembly Greagoir :o)

  • bona fide

    slievenanee

    “It was a daily occurrence for known terrorists to be stopped by the police or army right across Northern Ireland. If they were not then breaking the law they walked away.”

    You’re a gas ticket! You may have a bit of a (minute) point here but the important facts that you are neglecting to mention are about the huge number of totally innocent people, guilty by association (i.e. they’re taigs, that’ll do – sure we’ve just witnessed it again in court this last few weeks, for god’s sake) who were terrorised, discriminated against, wrongfully imprisioned and even murdered. What about them?…or do they not count?

    You say “Try to look at the history of the Troubles with some degree of common sense and think it over as you have that coffee you seem so fond of.”

    Thanks for the advice, but I have had the opportunity and privilege of doing just that, at some length, with some of the best historians and political thinkers on these islands (unfortunately for me, Paul Bew was among that number – I know, man not ball, but seriously, anyone who was taught by this guy would know what i mean).