Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Sinn Féin and Policing

Sinn Féin persuading the IRA to disarm - or at least kicking off the process which let to it - was a Big move because it was a departure from old ways. It says it's dedicated to peaceful politics, dialogue and persuasion, and the evidence agrees. But its elected representatives still refuse to take their places on local Policing Boards, claiming the PSNI is a sectarian gopher of the UK government, in cahoots with MI5 and (presumably) enemies of all things Republican. Well, get in there and change it!

In days past, the RUC's main job was to pursue terrorists because they were breaking the law. With the IRA disarmed and inactive, the emphasis of policing has to shift - in fact that process was started after the Good Friday Agreement. The PSNI is more than a new uniform, it has a new management structure and new policies, but you can't blame it for upholding the law. That's what it's there for. It's not perfect, but it's no latter-day Black & Tans either.

Sinn Féin's electoral success means they represent a large swathe of NI citizens. That gives them the right to share in devolved government, but with it come responsibilities. In a democracy, police (not vigilantes) have the job of upholding the law. To make sure they're even-handed they have to be accountable to elected politicians who approve their methods. It's a check-and-balance thing, and Sinn Féin have a responsibility to engage in it, otherwise they're failing to represent their constituents in matters of policing which have been a continual gripe since 1969. Even today's Belfast Telegraph carries a story where Ballymena Republican march organiser Paddy Murray says he was treated unfairly at a vehicle check. Isn't it incumbent on Sinn Féin to change things from the inside?

Bear with me when I say this: it's no longer acceptable for Sinn Féin to stay off the Policing Boards and hurl brickbats at the PSNI. They must join the other party representatives, get in there and use their influence to help make the PSNI a force supported by all but hardened criminals.

Now, I know that's a considerable challenge for a party whose armed wing waged a guerilla war against the police, but we're in a new ball game now and - as a democratic outfit - Sinn Féin shouldn't shun this responsibility. Maybe it has legitimate tactical reasons for holding back right now, I don't know. But, with the IRA being stood down, it should at least make membership a declared intention.

In the last 25 years Sinn Féin has matured from an extremist grouping on the periphery to a democratic party at the centre of modern politics. Now do the next Big Thing, Gerry:
Join the Unionists, the SDLP and the Alliance on Policing Boards and take your rightful opportunity to help shape policing in Northern Ireland.


At 10:17 p.m., Anonymous levee said...

John, once again a well-stated piece! I sincerely hope some of our politicians are reading your blog!

Seriously, though, have you ever considered starting your own party?

At 11:03 p.m., Anonymous John said...

Er, no. But if you bring a six-pack ...



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