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On the 5th of April the first recruits to the ‘Police Service of Northern Ireland’ (PSNI) graduated from their training establishment. There were 44 recruits, of whom 22 declared themselves to be Catholic. The present complement of the PSNI/RUC is 10,000. I leave it to the reader to calculate the time scale over which the force will convert to a force equally divided between Catholic and Protestant.
That’s an important calculation, because it’s all that’s left of all the promises of reform that were originally claimed when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. There is no sign that there will be any protection of civil rights. In fact, elements of policing, such as the use of plastic bullets and aspects of emergency laws have been exported to Britain where they are now incorporated in standard common law.
There is no prospect of any kind of democratic
control over the PSNI/RUC. Two major police bills have passed
through the British parliament. The first gave the British government
absolute authority over the force. The second made sure that the
force would not be restricted by any local bodies and would retain its
traditional secrecy, continue with the special branch as a ‘force within
a force’ and continue to have an essentially paramilitary role in assuring
that no threat would arise that would threaten the sectarian statelet
in the North.
All that is left of all the promises was a change of uniform, and even that is an infinitesimal change.
But even that is not the end. The PSNI/RUC has quickly evolved through a series of crises into what critics now call ‘the continuity RUC’ in mocking reference to the traditionalist Continuity IRA and in recognition that no change has taken place.
The first crisis was the battle between police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan, a catholic unionist appointed on the basis of her support for the state, and the RUC. O’Loan criticised the special branch for a cover-up that suggested that it had prior knowledge of the bomb attack in Omagh that led to one of the highest rates of civilian death in the troubles. The result was humiliation for O’Loan and clarification that her office would have no real authority.
That crisis was followed by a raid on the Special Branch office in their Castlereagh headquarters and the disappearance of key files. It was eerily like the blaze that destroyed files when the Stevens enquiry was asked to investigate RUC collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in sectarian killings. In the majority of police forces this would have led to some embarrassment and searching questions. In the continuity RUC the result was a bland announcement that the IRA were responsible, a series of raids targeting leading republican militants and a series of implausible claims that suggest that the IRA are contemplating a return to war. The end result is a reactionary and corrupt organisation, indistinguishable from the old RUC and engaged in its favourite pursuit – kicking the republican dog to see if it is dead.
Even more telling was the RUC on the streets of Ardoyne. Before the summer they enforced a loyalist blockade on the children and parents of Holy Cross – refusing to allow them to walk to school. In September the new PSNI stood by their right to walk to school – but it also stood by the bigots right to intimidate them and in fact organised a gauntlet that the parents and children had to walk.
So the RUC are the RUC. What’s new then? What’s new is the rabid support of the Irish capitalists despite the dashing of their hopes that some new gloss would be put on the organisation. The church were first in line as recruiting sergeants. The SDLP members of the police board voted for the return of the crown on the new cap badge. ‘It’s not the crown, it’s a crown’, insisted SDLP representative Alex Attwood. Finally the Gaelic Athletic Association voted to remove the rule barring members of the British forces from the association – in practice opening the door for GAA members to join the RUC.
Most significant of all was the way in which Nuala O’Loan was left out to dry and her call for an independent investigation of the special branch dropped. What was made clear then was that the Irish bourgeoisie have no demands to make of the PSNI/RUC. What they want is stability and if this requires a sectarian police force for a sectarian state then so be it.
Sinn Fein have launched a faction fight, accusing the SDLP of selling out. It’s the purest hypocrisy. They don’t criticise the church or the Dublin Government, who have identical positions. Gerry Adams urged unity with the GAA leadership immediately after their vote to support the RUC/PSNI. The IRA undertook another act of decommissioning while the RUC raided republican homes. In a statement they said that they were doing so because other elements were not meeting their obligations – more or less an invitation to the British and Unionists to kick them again and a clear-cut indication of their political and military commitment to the new dispensation.
Sinn Fein is heavily involved in Community Restorative Justice – a system that depends on integration with the police to become fully effective. In a telling phrase the republican attacks on the SDLP accuse them of jumping too soon – a clear indication that Sinn Fein also will jump in the short to medium term.
The reality of the ‘Continuity RUC’ has not been lost on the nationalist working class. There is plenty of resentment. What is urgently needed is a political opposition that shows unremitting opposition to the sectarian police and to the sectarian state that they guard. That understands the only alternative to the sectarian labels that define society in the North is the badge of membership of the Irish working class, and that the only irreconcilable policy against sectarianism is the programme of socialism.