Micheál Martin “there is a grave danger that policing in the North will be compromised because of this activity”

I’ve alluded to this in a post earlier in the week, but the Oireachtas record gives Deputy Gerry Adams a voice not captured on the Dail video. The exchange between himself and the leader of Fianna Fail is very instructive, not least as we face into another summer of discontent…

The relevant section begins with Mr Martin making a point he’s made before, only because of his interventions more forcefully and directly to one of the political parties he clearly holds responsible for not sorting our annual mess over parades out:

Micheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail): Did the Taoiseach speak to Prime Minister Cameron about extending the remit of the Parades Commission? Parading remains a major risk to civic stability in the North. There is considerable nervousness in the North about the upcoming parading season, particularly because of the flag violence we witnessed last Christmas. These events were particularly harmful for communities like the Short Strand enclave in east Belfast, which has effectively endured a continuous parading season.

It is vital that the authority of the Parades Commission is underpinned by both Irish and British Governments. That has not been happening to the degree it should have, particularly since Christmas. It was agreed at the Hillsborough talks two years ago to commence a process which would get agreement among the various strands of opinion on an alternative structure, but no obvious progress has been made by the parties. In the absence of any alternative, the Parades Commission can only continue its vital work if it is clear to all that it has the support of the Irish Government and will not be second-guessed or undermined by any strand of political opinion simply because somebody does not like a decision it makes.

The performance of First Minister, Peter Robinson, MLA, last summer, when he co-signed an open letter condemning the commission, was a major setback. It was exactly the opposite of what the families of Northern Ireland have a right to expect from their leaders. Was the Taoiseach aware of this and has he a view on the fact that Mr. Robinson co-signed a letter that fundamentally undermined the only authority designed to call it in terms of parades? These issues demand to be raised and discussed with the British Government.

Other issues arise in regard to policing and the PSNI. I support the PSNI but Sinn Féin picketed a PSNI office because it did not like who it arrested. [emphasis added]

Gerry Adams (Louth, Sinn Fein) We are entitled to do that.

Micheál Martin I do not think you are.

Gerry Adams Yes, we are.

Micheál Martin If Sinn Féin members are on the Executive and the policing boards, they undermine the authority of the PSNI if they question its operational decisions on who to arrest or which crimes to pursue. That is fundamentally wrong and Sinn Féin does not enjoy that luxury.

Gerry Adams: It is not a luxury; it is a right.

Micheál Martin: Parties in government do not enjoy that right. Sinn Féin cannot have it every way all of the time.

Gerry Adams: The PSNI has to be accountable.

Micheál Martin: It is accountable through the structures created under the Patten reforms. That is why people sit on the policing boards. There is accountability through the boards. Various communities and political parties, including Sinn Féin, have representatives on the policing boards. There is a line of accountability but, unfortunately, there is a grave danger that policing in the North will be compromised because of this activity. A pattern has emerged whereby there are protests when arrests happen in loyalist areas. People can switch on riots if they do not like who is being arrested. People cannot condemn that kind of activity on the one hand while deciding to mount pickets on the other.

Gerry Adams: Rioting and peaceful picketing are distinct activities.

Micheál Martin: It increases tensions, inflames opinion and undermines the authority of the PSNI. No institution is perfect but the PSNI represents one of the better transformations or new departures to have emanated from the Good Friday Agreement. The work done by Chris Patten and everybody else has been held up as a model for policing in conflict areas. All parties should be extremely careful that nothing is done to undermine that transformation. By all means we should enhance it but let us not play to all bases all of the time. The problem in Northern politics is that the main parties play to their electoral bases to the detriment of the common good on social, economic and political issues.

Gerry Adams: Is the Deputy blushing?

Brendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail): Deputy Adams would blush a good bit if he was to listen to the truth.

Michael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail): Through the Chair.

Micheál Martin: I am reliably informed that certain people were blushing on “Primetime.”

Gerry Adams: It certainly was not me. It may have been the presenter.

Micheál Martin: I doubt it somehow.

Patrick O’Donovan: (Limerick, Fine Gael): It is their only way of communicating.

Michael Kitt: We are on Taoiseach’s Questions.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty