“And in case any Irish News readers think that this is just a unionist issue, it’s not. “

Interesting platform piece in today’s Irish News by Micheal Martin, reiterating the failure of both the DUP and Sinn Fein to resolutely uphold the policing institutions set up under the Belfast Agreement and subsequently endorsed by both parties in the St Andrews Agreement…

Last week, we took another step backwards. The decision of the leaders of Unionism to withdraw from important talks in protest at a Parades Commission determination was a sign of profound political failure. Raising the rhetoric on parading at this time does nothing for people trying to raise a family, or trying to make a living in Northern Ireland.

It certainly does nothing to advance the basic requirement for building trust and a shared vision for the region.

But of course, for anyone who hasn’t wrapped themselves up in the issue of parading, these are statements of the obvious. Last week and the months before raise two less obvious problems that all of us who care about the future of Northern Ireland need to be thinking about.

The first is how NI adjudicates on parading. Unionist parties have pushed for many years for the disbandment of the Parades Commission and the development of a new architecture.

In the Hillsborough Castle negotiation and again in the recent Haass process, the emerging ‘momentum’ had been to move parading into the political sphere, with an overarching role for the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Recent developments would have to make people question whether such a move would really be good for political stability. An ironic development given the insistence of Unionist political leaders on the need for change.

The second, and more important issue that arises is the question of political recognition of the primacy of the rule of law in Northern Ireland.

I spent a lot of time while I was a Government Minister working on the devolution of policing and justice. And before that, huge energy and resources were poured into the positive transformation of policing.

I and many others each played our part gladly and enthusiastically because we recognized that for the North to move on, shared ownership of the institutions and public trust in the rule and administration of the law was going to be the cornerstone of long term progress.

And huge progress has been achieved. The public have bought into it and the architecture around policing and accountability in Northern Ireland is now a case study around the world. Indeed, in Dublin, we will shortly be debating legislation to reform the oversight of An Garda Siochana which takes inspiration from what has happened in Belfast.

But confidence is a fragile thing. Political leaders have an obligation to respect it in the same way as everyone else.

When the First Minister and the Leader of the UUP join hands to collapse a talks process because they are unhappy with the independent decision of a body with independent statutory authority, what does that tell the people watching about respect for the rule of law?

When dark mutterings are made about the future of the institutions in an effort to overturn the decision of an independent authority, what does that say about stability?

And in case any Irish News readers think that this is just a unionist issue, it’s not.

The same sort of dark mutterings made international headlines just a few months ago when the Deputy First Minister was telling the world that Sinn Fein’s support for policing hung in the balance if his party colleague was not released from police custody. What did that say about stability?

What did accusations of ‘political policing’ and warnings about ‘the dark side’ in the PSNI do for public confidence in the institutions?

Readers may well have already come up with five reasons why the circumstances in each example are different. Fair enough. But that is not the point. The problem that needs to be confronted honestly is the common thread – the fact that political leaders still think that when they want to, they can suspend respect for the law temporarily and without consequence.

Those who enjoy the privilege of leading the Northern Executive hold a position of historic importance and opportunity. For their shared institution to succeed, they demand and need public respect and trust. Showing other important institutions the same respect and trust might be a good start towards getting it.

For context, this comes just days after Padraig Wilson was charged by the Director of Public Prosecutions, it recalls the circumstance of Wilson’s arrest, which evinced a fairly stinging attack by Martin on some of the grounds he lays out above:

I listened with incredulity about the campaign that Sinn Fein mounted outside PSNI Headquarters against the arrest of Padraig Wilson in relation to the McCartney murder and this is at the very same time the PSNI are looking for people to cooperate with them in time to find the killers of Prison Officer David Black.

How can you on the one hand condemn that activity and ask people to cooperate with the PSNI and then on the other side you’re campaigning outside PSNI headquarters and essentially saying, despite the fact that you’re a party of government, you that you actually decide who the PSNI should arrest.

  • cynic2

    The fundamental issue is that our politics isn’t normal. Its just war converted to a political stage fought on one side by a party of armchair generals driven by a visceral hatred of all things British and on the other by parties packed with grafting chancers who hate themuns just as much as they are hated in return.

    On both sides there are many dedicated more junior politicians who understand the problems and want to reach accommodation but just aren’t allowed to by party machines. Until that changes, nothing changes.

    We need a law banning anyone over the age of 40 from playing any role in political parties

    In the meantime all we can do is stop voting and feeding their egos

  • Tugger

    When you allow religious serial killers, fuel smugglers, bank robbers, paedophile shelterers, Colombian cocaine importers and those responsible for the ethnic cleansing of entire areas into your devolved parliament you can hardly complain when some of them take an ambivalent attitude towards law and order.

  • socaire

    Whatabout, Tugger, those loyal citizens, armed with German guns, who threatened HMG in 1912 after they dared to pass the Home Rule Bill? It’s no wonder their children and grand children have no respect for HMG and the PSNI now, is it?

  • Tugger

    ‘Whatabout’ indeed….

  • Greenflag

    It’s not often I give praise to Michael Martin but on this occasion hats off to the man for speaking the unvarnished truth .

    So who polices the police in Northern Ireland or are they just political puppets as they were for most of NI’s history ?

    We’ve seen a Justice Minister resign in the Republic over a lot less than what is currently being touted as ‘graduated opposition ‘ to the law of the land in NI by those elected to uphold that law .

    There’s an anti democratic streak running through political unionism which suits it’s leaders to stroke whenever they feel the need .

  • BarneyT

    Whilst both the unionist walkout and martins thinly veiled threat to withdrawn psni support are distasteful from a resolution basis, they should not necessarily be balanced. Unionism want to retain the right to march where they please regardless of demography or upset, orchestrated or otherwise. They will strop and tantrum at the drop of a hat if they have to compromise with regard to 12th demos. The SF threat can however be tied to the peace process agreements. I can see why gerrys arrest was regarded as out of context and worthy of protest

  • Mick Fealty


    Quite so, they should not be balanced. The Haass talks are in some respects as the blessed Bard’s might put it largely “Sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    But how was the SF threat unsubscribe to Policing and Justice is somehow tied to peace; if not an implicit threat to break it? That’s if you ever thought they would not eventually have to put the bunny back in the box (http://goo.gl/h4VABd)?

    GF, re the comparison to Shatter, the analogy is not as obvious to the rest of it as it obviously was to you when you wrote that comment.

    In fact, I cannot see any parallels, bar this from Peadar Toibin (http://goo.gl/Te6irJ) which reflects rather more directly on his own party’s attitude to the cops in NI:

  • Tugger

    BarneyT, this is taken straight from the Good Friday Agreement:

    ‘The parties affirm their commitment to the mutual respect, the civil rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community. Against the background of the recent history of communal conflict, the parties affirm in particular:

    the right to freedom and expression of religion;

    Nowhere in the agreement does it say Gerry Adams should not be arrested if reliable information about criminal activity comes into police possession.

    Using your argument, protests about the banning of the 12th July protestant religious procession along the Crumlin Road (past the deserted shopfronts) are actually more legitimate than Sinn Fein’s anti-police protests and sinister threats a few months ago.

  • BarneyT

    I’m talking about possible gentleman’s agreements…. I.e we’ll call off the boys and youse leave us alone….or at least a bit. Do you not think sf went, Aw here, wait a minute? Slight tongue in cheek

  • BarneyT

    What can be guaranteed is both are playing to the stands

  • Tugger

    I’m just pointing out that your argument actually invalidates the point you were trying to make.

  • Zig70

    God forbid southern politicians could have a go at the worst excesses of unionism without the old ‘yer all as bad as each other’ bolloxs. The southern politic left us to rot and took a snobby attitude to the looney north. The result is their responsibility to. The orange order has a long history of murder and mayhem in Ireland and it’s time they are kept out of politics here. After all for evil to flourish, which is what the southern elite did, nothing except hold meetings to say down with that sort of thing. The Irish news readers should note the platitudes come 2019. I don’t believe they are that easily led.

  • sean treacy

    FF need to be reminded that they were up to their necks in political interference with the Gardai for decades.Apart from the run of the mill “what are you having Guard ,a pint or a transfer?”,they also have scandals like the Dowra affair in their not so distant past.

  • Mick Fealty

    Sean are you saying it is right then for SF or FF to interfere or seek to dictate who should or should not be arrested? You too Zig? Or do you just think that whataboutery is always sufficient unto the day when you cannot put your hand to an actual argument?

  • aquifer

    For a moment I thought Micheal was going to pull the SDLP for equivocating about the local role of the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency.

    Silly of me.

    Better a united island of cokeheads?

  • ArdoyneUnionist

    The sinners/provo were talking peace but arming for war, what about these weapons. Have the pani questioned sinner/provo Sean “spike” Murray about this importing weapons that killed at lest two RUC officers in Lurgan. Murray who is now the sinners/provos negotiator on parades, flags and his and his colleagues past.

  • Zig70

    You mean there was a point to Michael’s argument? Not just another back handed swipe at SF? Must have missed his solution again, I am a bit slow. Nationalist in fighting annoys me. As does the Orange order making battle enactments more important than health care or the economy.

  • Mick Fealty


    If you cannot by your own admission stand an argument, then what are you doing here? 🙂

  • Billy Pilgrim


    ‘…it is right then for SF or FF to interfere or seek to dictate who should or should not be arrested?’

    SF did not ‘seek to dictate who should or should not be arrested.’

    They protested after their party leader HAD been arrested. They had quite a few arguments as to why his arrest was wrong, but I don’t remember them ever saying that it should be up to SF who the PSNI arrest.

    Adams was arrested three weeks before an election. SF protested and criticised the PSNI. Adams was released. We have heard no more about it since, other than in exercises of whataboutery.


    Meanwhile the Orange Order, virtually the sister organisation of the Ku Klux Klan, has taken control of political unionism in its entirety, and is in the process of tossing twenty years’ worth of hard-won political progress and societal stability on the nearest boney.

    McGuinness was castigated for his remarks about the ‘dark side’ of policing, and an ‘old guard’ at work. But it’s worth noting that the DUP sent an Orangeman who is ex-Special Branch, and not even a party member, as their representative to the ‘talks’ last week.

    But sure both sides are as bad as each other….

  • Mick Fealty

    But I didn’t mention Gerry Billy.

    I did however mention Padraig Wilson’s arrest, which was followed up by a seemingly spurious claim from Gerry Kelly that it was ‘politically motivated’ and who called for his party colleague’s immediate release’.

    Martin’s case, both then and now, is that SF is treating the justice process seriously only when its own narrow party political interests are not threatened.

    Despicable though the Dowra affair might have been (this Newsnight piece provides a good briefing), this case is a whole different class of ‘having your cake and eating it‘…

  • John Ó Néill

    Context to Michael Martins comments would have been to raise the DUP/Tory shindig in Downing St on the night of Adam’s arrest, or the Senior Coroner, Her Majesties Inspector of Police and Ombudsman all levelling unprecedented criticisms or legal action against the PSNI, but that would be (forlornly) expecting a bit of depth to his analysis.

  • Mick Fealty


    Do you think there was an instrumental connection between the two? On what grounds?

  • Zeno

    ” and is in the process of tossing twenty years’ worth of hard-won political progress and societal stability on the nearest boney.”

    Progress Billy? It took them over 8 years to come up with a Law on Garden Hedges. Catholic areas still have higher levels of unemployment and lower levels of investment. Basically in the last 20 years nothing has been achieved for the people of this place.

  • megatron

    First of all Martin’s rant reads a little like someone without any kids telling a parent how to raise theirs. Still waiting for that FF move north.

    Look he has a point regarding threatening to collapse. To be honest if the unionists ran around talking and shouting like SF nobody would really care in the end. It would just be a bit of brinkmanship.

    I think the key difference is that the unionist rhetoric encourages their supporters onto the streets where bad things happen.

  • ayeYerMa

    ” independent decision of a body with independent statutory authority”.

    What a load of nonsense. There is no such thing as anyone being truly “independent”, no matter how they may label themselves.

  • BarneyT

    SF cooperating with the PSNI and providing support has a much greater contribution to make towards settlement than cooperating with the parades commission, or not.

    There was enough associated with the arrest of Gerry Adams to suggest that a different sort of politics was at work and that a generally agreed way forward was being steered off course.

    The arrest of GA does not belong in the current political context. There is a respectability now associated with the direction SF are taking ( i.e. its political) and it is in sharp contrast to their past. This was forgotten and all of a sudden news was breaking in Berkshire of a politicians past misdemeanour. NI is not Berkshire. The political engagement of a party that openly supported conflict is always going to bring closeted skeletons to the table, as they would with the PUP or any party with known links to para-militarism. No-one should doubt that and to move forward, and to provide settlement, some of the past activities have to be shelved, never to be spoken of again, whilst political engagement continues and the past remains the past. That’s logical when you are dealing with conflict resolution.

    This is what I mean with regard to the arrest being totally out of context, and I understand McGuinness’ reaction. It was not in the spirit of “moving forward”.

    I have to reiterate I would apply this same logic to all and it must be used as a carrot to draw other in from the cold and away from the gun.

    Marching is a separate matter. In a wider UK context, it would not be tolerated. It, along with the orders that orchestrate the demonstrations and re-enactments would perhaps once again be outlawed. London needs to make some noise about this aspect of the British culture, however they are compromised presently, just as major was prior to 97.

    Abandoning talks in response to the parades commission ruling, which does appear increasingly dysfunctional, is merely petulant and wantingly destructive, and is in itself out of context.

    They should walk out of the talks it the talks themselves are directly failing them, and they have that right.

  • DoppiaVu


    “some of the past activities have to be shelved, never to be spoken of again, whilst political engagement continues and the past remains the past”

    That’s all very well, but SF and their supporters are pretty quick to dig up the past of others when it suits them. Look at the 3rd comment on this thread, for example.

    1912, FFS.

  • Mick Fealty


    There was nothing more than assertions in the party’s own interest. Just like in the Wilson case. Wilson has been charged now, so we know there was a case to answer. Even if Adams isn’t what grounds are there for suspecting this was politics in action?

    Politicians should stay the hell away from the operation of the police, just as Toibin argues, correctly IMHO, on TWIP. Everything else is ‘white noise’ intended to bamboozle the press…

  • Zeno

    Liam Clarke says in today’s Belfast Telegraph………..
    “We must remember what is at stake here. It is a dispute between two relatively small groups in north Belfast over whether one can walk both ways along a half-mile stretch of road rather than one way only.”
    When you see it written down it looks like the Egg War in Gulliver’s Travels. But Clarke’s view is heavily slanted towards the Big- Endian view of the problem. The Little-Endians see the problem as being much wider. Scrambled eggs anyone? (you break those in the middle).

  • John Ó Néill

    Mick – are you asking us to believe that the two events were completely coincidental (seriously, when the Tories are playing footsie with the DUP)?

  • Billy Pilgrim


    ‘Basically in the last 20 years nothing has been achieved for the people of this place.’

    Twenty years ago people were dying almost every day. That is no longer the case. I’d call that progress.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Billy Pilgrim,

    Again you have made a ludicrous reference to the KKK, back up your claims or back off.

  • Billy Pilgrim


    Apologies for misconstruing your reference.

    But it is still the case that SF does, in fact, endorse and support the PSNI, a lawfully-constituted body.

    Certainly they sometimes criticise the PSNI, which is fair enough, and certainly they are extremely sensitive about any possible back-sliding in a force which, as far as nationalists are concerned, still has quite a bit to prove. Again, fair enough.

    But you’ll note that in neither the Wilson nor Adams cases did SF withdraw their endorsement of the PSNI, for all their criticisms.

    Nationalism generally has maintained its support for the lawfully-constituted institutions, even when one of those institutions behaves in a way that, to most nationalists, is alarmingly reminiscent of its disgraced predecessor force.

    The unionist parties, on the other hand, refuse to recognise the Parades Commission, a lawfully-constituted body. There is by now a vast record of violence associated with protests against PC rulings, yet the unionist parties continue to call for, facilitate and lead these protests. When there is such a vast record of ‘previous,’ calls for protests to ‘remain peaceful’ are exposed as pure cynicism.

    But sure, God forbid you’d admit that maybe, just maybe, both sides aren’t quite as bad as each other.

    (Although this platitude only gets trotted out when it’s unionism that’s in the doghouse – which admittedly is nine times out of ten.)

  • Billy Pilgrim


    I have made connections related to:

    their shared supremacism;
    their remarkably similar rhetoric about ‘culture and heritage’ being ‘under attack’;
    their shared predilection for burning symbols and effigies of the ‘other’ – in the KKK’s case, non-WASPS, in the OO case, Catholics;
    their similarly vast records of violence;
    their similarly vast records of hypocrisy in relation to that violence;
    their shared culpability in the murder of children;
    their predilection for marching.

    I could also have mentioned:

    a shared predilection for dressing up;
    a shared predilection for honouring themselves with preposterously pompous titles – is ‘Grand Master’ so different from ‘Grand Wizard’?;
    a shared record of open influence and entryism within mainstream political parties;
    a common record of connivance to deny the ‘other’ (read African Americans or Catholics) the opportunity to vote;
    direct collaboration between OO and KKK in Canada in the 1920s and 30s.
    a shared tendency to frame criticism of or opposition to the institution as criticism of or opposition to a whole group – ie to oppose the OO is to be anti-Protestant, to oppose the KKK is to be anti-white.

    The springing-up of KKK flags in Orange heartlands recently was timely, as regards my argument. While being alarming in every other sense. The ‘nothing to see here’ response by OO-KKK, its apologists and its sneaking regarders in the media / blogosphere, just won’t wash, I’m afraid. Whoever put up those flags was exactly right in the connection they were making.

    In a nutshell, both are institutions designed to facilitate popular organisation of supremacists.

    For the KKK it’s white supremacism. For the Orange Order it’s Protestant supremacism. As I said before, this is a distinction without a difference.

  • Jagdip

    For the first time in a long time, Micheal Martin has raised precisely the above issues (the ones he raised in the newspaper interview) with An Taoiseach during Leaders Questions today in the Dail.

    Enda said he spoke with Dave Cameron “for a few minutes”, he spoke with David Ford “who was obviously quite concerned about this [unionist threat of graduated response]”, he also met with SDLP.

    Enda is concerned that unionists have moved from a “centrality with the GFA” to “somewhere right of that”

    SF and SDLP told Enda that they would have been supportive of the PC decision, regardless of what it was.

    Enda has been requested to make contact with US in order to keep focus on pushing forward to GFA.

  • Jagdip

    Michael Martin refers to report in Assembly on education and employment problems in north Belfast.

    Might Slugger put that on here. Last week, it was confirmed in Assembly that there are 32,000 16-24 year old NEETS (not in employment, education or training) of which around 2,500 are in north Belfast.

  • Jagdip

    Enda seems to indicate that Peter Robinson wouldn’t take his call, but hopes the British PM would intervene.

  • Jagdip

    Oddly enough, Enda didn’t take the bait about the GA arrest and the subsequent undermining of the PSNI by SF. Normally, Enda tries his damnedest to poke GA about the MOT and his past. Things must be serious – in the sense there is potential for mayhem in NI – if Enda is dialling down that needling of GA.