Turgon noted yesterday ‘unionist fury’ over new Chief Constable Baggott’s comments about border policing. Baggott’s comments about dissident republicans are also interesting, given the campaign of harassment the PSNI are currently engaged in against them. He claims that he has no problem with people who hold different political opinions from himself, and is only concerned with those who engage in acts of violence, yet under his helm his police force are aggressively targetting people because of their politics. This is done with the help of Sinn Fein (who want to “close down” the dissidents and are encouraging their supporters to inform on them), who are passing on intelligence coloured by political/personal animosity and self-protection, and greatly aided no doubt by the presence of Mi5 and all its apparatus now permanently embedded here. On the one hand, the security forces are proving successful in their ability to stop attacks, but on the other hand, upping the ante by harassing everyone whose politics fall outside the pale of Sinn Fein’s approval – especially at a time when Sinn Fein’s support in grassroots areas is on the wane because of the perception that the Good Friday Agreement means ‘Got Fuck All’ – is a failed strategy that will only feed into the problem the more it is overused. It may seem for now that no one cares if the likes of Marian Price, 55, is arrested and released, because of her past as the Old Bailey bomber, or if other ‘usual suspects’ are harassed, but that is a short-term sentiment that is growing into longer-term resentment the more it is abused. Now that the Provos have lost their ability to keep people in line through fear of the IRA, the PSNI is moving in to politically police for them. The pay-off may not be worth it as it fuels the fire of discontent. Cheap stunts rarely are in the long run. Suzanne Breen has the numbers:
“The number of people stopped and searched in the North under section 44 of the Terrorism Act has risen dramatically. In the three months to October, 10,265 people were detained compared to 1,657 for the same period last year.
Of the 10,265, only 39 were subsequently arrested.”
And fewer than 39 charged, even less brought to trial or convicted. Shaking down 10,265 people in a 3 month span for a handful of arrests and less convictions?
In addition to the political harassment of Marian Price, which was nothing more than a big show for the PSNI and the media who delighted in the ‘sensational’ arrest (huge coverage of the arrest, barely a word of the following day’s release), the cynical Casablanca strategy of the PSNI (“Round up the usual suspects”) has most recently resulted in the harassment of the late Martin Meehan’s son, Mairtin og Meehan, who was arrested this week helping a neighbour who’s home had been attacked with a blast bomb. He was CS-sprayed and refused medical aid at the scene, despite having a heart condition. When he was processed at the station a police doctor had him immediately sent to hospital.
Tony Catney, who Sinn Fein ridiculously fingered to the PSNI and media figures as the head of the Real IRA in Belfast, was arrested at Belfast International Airport and released a few hours later.
As Suzanne Breen has reported, Brendan Shannon has been repeatedly harassed by the PSNI, most recently at his daughter’s school which has led to complaints lodged by the Vice Chair of the West Belfast DPP. The harassment is getting so bad that the Andersonstown News is reporting on it, and Sinn Fein has to be seen to be doing something about it with their toothless tigers.
éirígí activists were also subject to police overkill recently when they staged a token protest at a British communications post on the Black Mountain: “…30 or so éirígí members and supporters were finishing their hike they were met by no less than seven armoured PSNI jeeps, two helicopters, 30 PSNI riot personnel and a number of unmarked cars”.
Last month also saw the stop and search of IRSP members that included 4 unmarked cars and the police pointing guns at people’s heads (as reported by the Irish News). The IRSP party were held for 50 minutes and released as nothing was found.
The Derry Journal reports of a man stopped over 20 times in the space of a month under Section 44 by the PSNI, whose brother, seeing him yet again stopped by police, stopped to help him and was himself arrested. This is typical practice as it has been reported that those who are witness to the political harassment meted out by the PSNI are also targetted and then subject to future harassment themselves. It’s part of how the net widens.
A list of dissidents is also being circulated amongst PSNI officers – which in the main contains people who are well into their 40s and 50s, people who would be ‘names’ more than any credible threat.
To many Slugger readers this may seem perfectly fine, such is the hatred for ‘dissident Republicans’ shared by Unionists and Shinners alike. However this sort of policing is false comfort, a chimera made to look as though the police are doing more than what they are, taking advantage of the sentiment held towards dissidents to puff the PSNI up. And the more that this goes on, the more people are politically harassed and the police are politically profiling, the worse it will make things. Combined with the balls-up farce that Stormont is, it’s a dangerous cocktail given the lessons of history that should have been learned from the Troubles. Casablanca policing benefits no one.
One of the outworkings of the peace process is that Sinn Fein will no longer have a hegemony over Republicanism. If democracy is to work and the peace process to succeed, the One Party State of West Belfast (and beyond) is going to come to an end and rightly so. Groups like Republican Network for Unity and éirígí are the initial steps of republicans who have lived in that One Party State all their lives seeking a political alternative. They are able to do this because of the peace process – it has given them the space to seek and create political alternatives to Sinn Fein that can be viable and have the potential to become credible political opposition. This is a good thing for democracy. The political harassment of those who do not support Sinn Fein under the guise of chasing militant dissidents is a grave mistake. The only logical outcome of it is to send more people, not less, into the arms of militant republicanism, as they will see no other choice than to rebel.