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RUC/PSNI - back to the future with cover up charges

In an interview in the New Statesman (Nov 26) the current neo- colonial administrator for the north of Ireland, ex communist John Reid, tentatively expressed his belief that the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is finally on the verge of completion. The Executive is back on track again, the IRA is fully committed to decommissioning, alleged leaders of the RIRA are essentially interned under membership charges and of course the new cross community Police Service of Northern Ireland has gained the approval of nationalist Ireland   When queried over Sinn Fein’s current refusnik attitude towards the PSNI Reid’s reply was astute and to the point : ‘ I think sooner or later they will want the police to operate in their communities. The rough justice which is meted out now-in the form of kneecappings, beatings and even killings- limits their political appeal. It ties them too closely to the paramilitaries’

The Patten report

The lynch-pin of the ‘new’ police force was the Patten report. As with the other aspects of the Good Friday agreement, it refused to deal with the reality of colonialism and sectarianism, instead addressing nationalist ‘perception’ of injustice.

The Patten report ruled out disbanding the RUC. It argued that the force would have to assume a neutral name and image if it were to be made acceptable to the majority of nationalists. In particular it proposed ditching the term Royal from the title, a new oath of allegiance emphasising human rights was also approved. Another recommendation was the setting up of an ombudsman’s office to take over the role of investigating complaints against the RUC. A drive to recruit Catholics was also recommended, but this would have to take place over a ten-year period, while nationalists would have to support the improved RUC from day one.

Socialist Democracy argued that the Patten report did not even represent a genuine attempt at reform and that even the cosmetic aspects would prove too much for the sectarian society that was to be preserved under the Good Friday Agreement.  We were proved right.  In a series of police Bills the British removed all pretence that the force would be democratic or accountable.

 ‘Nationalist Ireland’ signed up to a distilled version of Patten at the Weston Park talks in July 2001. Since then only Sinn Fein has continued as the defender of Patten, a position empty of substance given that Patten meets neither the revolutionary aspects of the past nor the reformist illusions of the present.

December 2001 then was expected to be a month of congratulations and celebration. The SDLP after years of proxy support for the RUC finally openly endorsed the force by taking its seats on the policing board, it then loudly called on young nationalists to join up. The Catholic Bishops gave the SDLP their blessing and duly invited the RUC into the schools. The bulk of the southern Irish political media then waged a vigorous propaganda campaign on behalf of the new police force. This was rounded off by the Irish government and Dail initiating a very successful campaign to have the GAA delete the rule that banned RUC members from joining the Association.  A new badge was announced, supported by the nationalists, which was replete with all the symbols of colonialism and sectarianism that Patten had declared must go.  To cap it all the British announced that the new force, deemed too explosive to be under local control, would be transferred to the Stormont executive within a year.

Omagh Bombing

However the new era began badly with the Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flannigan, the man who was trusted to implement the reforms, threatening to take legal action against the recently appointed Ombudsman Ms Nula O’Loan. His threat relates to a report she issued claiming that the RUC had at best bungled and at worst deliberately sabotaged the investigation into the death of 27 people in the Omagh bombing of August 1998.  A former British double agent calling himself Kevin Fulton raised the question as to why information he had passed on to the Special Branch about a likely attack on Omagh had not been acted on. The chief fear of the British was of course that Special Branch might actually end up being implicated.

 O’Loan’s report said that of 360 intelligence documents held by the Special Branch 78 percent were not passed on. The report alleged a’ failure of leadership’ at the top of the RUC and complained of senior police officers hampering the ombudsman's investigation. A new requirement on Special branch to liaise with their C.I.D. and uniformed officers was a key proposal of Patten that had clearly been ignored.

It wasn’t long before the ombudsman's competence was being questioned. The Chief Constable called O’Loan’s conclusions ‘wild sweeping and gross’.  He also said that confidence in the ombudsman’s office had been ‘seriously shaken’. Senior Unionist police spokesman Lord Maginnis called for O’Loan’s resignation. British government spin doctors set about briefing against her.  The only official British statement so far provides the first clue as to how things are likely to go, saying that ‘ there is no requirement in the legislation governing the ombudsman’s report that requires the Chief Constable to implement any of the changes she recommends.’ The likelihood is that the credibility of the independence of the ombudsman’s office will be irreparably damaged and confidence in the Patten proposals dealt yet another blow, all this coming so soon after the disgraceful policing display at the Holy Cross School..

As the rebadging of the RUC proceeds Irish capital is like to find itself deeply embarrassed by it's full-blooded support for the force.  Luckily for itself it faces little in the way of opposition.  Sinn Fein calls for amendment to the police act fall short of any genuine opposition, as did their performance after the GAA vote, when Gerry Adams called on GAA members to unite behind the leadership that had just pushed through support for the police.

That said, the PSNI remains the sectarian timebomb waiting to explode at the heart of the Good Friday agreement.  The fact that the force is showing signs of instability so soon after its formation bodes ill for supporters of the present settlement.



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