Judge rules against police collusion in the North
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) wrongly facilitated illegal and sometimes violent loyalist flag protest marches, Judge Justice Treacy ruled in the northern courts on 28th April. He upheld a legal challenge to police decisions by an east Belfast resident who claimed that the police had stood by while his home came under persistent attack and allowed violent loyalist protests to march at will.
"It is evident that ACC Kerr was labouring under a material misapprehension as to the proper scope of police powers and the legal context in which they were operating."
ACC Kerr "did not address himself to the question of whether to stop the weekly parade, nor did the police behave proactively, or at all, in relation to prosecuting those organising and participating in the parades".
The judge said the police had "misdirected themselves" into thinking the issue was legally complex.
"This was simply wrong and I consider that it was this misdirection which explains and led to the situation in which the police facilitated illegal and sometimes violent parades," he said.
The only surprise is that the judge made the judgement. It is a fact of everyday life that the police facilitate sectarian demonstrations by loyalists. It was a standard and central element of the old Northern state. The PSNI replaced the RUC amid a flurry of Catholic recruitment, policing boards, cross-community blather and equality talk. Some doubt emerged when the UVF appeared on the membership of the policing boards and more when Chief Constable Baggot claimed the UVF were on ceasefire and the police federation claimed that they were not. All doubt was settled in Ballyclare in 2012 when the police removed flags posted provocatively around a Catholic church. After five days of rioting the police apologised for their rash action! Since then all forms of provocative emblem can be displayed from street furniture. No-one is responsible for their removal. Indeed, when young people tore down emblems at an Orange camp the police announced they had committed a hate crime!
The second fact of everyday reality in the North is that everyone proceeds with eyes wide shut when it comes to collusion between the state and the paramilitaries. A judicial finding that would cause a political convulsion anywhere else sank without trace after a brief mention in the local press. Indeed, chief constable Baggot quickly dismissed the Judges’ findings, announced he would appeal, and said that there would be no change to police practice.
In reality the judge was left with no choice but to find as he did. The cops justified blatant collaboration by speaking in tongues and making up duff laws that were completely nonsensical. Assistant chief constable Kerr claimed that the marches were not illegal because the organisers had not applied to the Parades Commission in the first place. Chief constable Baggot claimed that if would be an assault on their civil rights to prevent the loyalist parades.
The police will now retreat behind the independence of the state forces from any real democratic control and are already citing “operational independence” to justify the status quo. They will succeed because all the political parties and trade union leaders agree with a policy of conciliating loyalism. Sinn Fein are tied into unconditional support for the police and can make only the mildest tactical criticisms.
In the longer run people believe that the settlement in the North was meant to gradually reduce sectarianism. They will not remain forever blind to the reality that the state “facilitates illegal and violent” sectarian activity.