From Socialist Voice, January 2007

Reader’s reply

Sinn Féin and policing

The following is a reply to an article in the December issue of Socialist Voice on the debate about policing in the North. The writer is an active republican and former member of Sinn Féin. It is our policy to encourage debate among all democratic and progressive opinion in Ireland. If you would like to contribute to this debate please send in your comments. Space is limited to 200 words. We are investigating the possibility of setting up a space on our web site to facilitate debate and the exchange of ideas among left and anti-imperialist forces.

A number of issues arise from the Communist Party’s position on republicans and policing as set out in the December issue of Socialist Voice.
     The author posed several questions to those republicans opposed to the granting of support for the PSNI in occupied Ireland (and in broader terms An Garda Síochána in the 26 Counties).
     As one such republican, I will attempt to address those questions in a personal capacity.
     Firstly, regarding the role of MI5 who will soon officially take on intelligence gathering responsibilities in the Six Counties relevant to “national security interests”—i.e. those who pose a threat to the British state in Ireland.
     MI5 are needed in Ireland to protect the interests of the British government here and will be controlled by that government (to the extent that MI5 are controlled by anybody other than their own raison d’être). The announcement by the British government that MI5 will be taking on primary intelligence gathering responsibilities for republicans from this year onward is an indication that they are as determined as ever to uphold the Six County state.
     The recent declaration by Tony Blair that MI5 will have no role in “civic policing” in the North does not affect their prominent role in “non-civic policing.” Indeed, one newspaper has reported that while the proportion of MI5 funding that is spent in the Six Counties has decreased in the last ten years, the actual amount has remained roughly the same.
     The author of the December piece also posed the question, “Is there not some logic to the fact that if you are in government you can influence and shape how policing is carried out, that you have to take responsibility in order to ensure change in how policing is carried out?”
     Herein lies the problem. Any northern administration that pro-PSNI republicans enter will not be sovereign—ultimate power will continue to lie in Westminster. The British government will retain tax-raising powers in the Six Counties and will thus control allocation of resources.
     In matters relating to “national security” (British occupation) the PSNI chief constable will not be accountable to the Policing Board but the British Secretary of State.
     Collaboration between the PSNI, MI5 and the British army will continue with local politicians powerless to stop it.
     Recognition of the political reality that the PSNI will remain within the framework of the forces of occupation does not mean that you are avoiding or ignoring the issue—it does place an onus on you to develop a political strategy with that reality as your starting point.
     Furthermore, the only model of policing on offer is the British model. The classically capitalist model of policing so adept at suppressing working class communities the world over.
     Such a model is incapable of dealing with crime and only exacerbates the causes. Any negotiations between republicans and the British that have taken place on the issue will not result in the changing of the model but, at best, the tweaking of it.
     What is being asked of republicans is that they take responsibility for the British model of policing in the shape of the PSNI without the power to radically transform it. Such a move would only result in damaging the credibility of the republican message in the communities who will continue to suffer at the hands of an incompetent and hostile police force.
     In many instances of political action it’s a case of not what you do but why you do it. The Sinn Féin Ard-Chomhairle motion that republicans back An Garda as well as the PSNI without any equivalent Patten type reforms is an indication that a republican endorsement of “law and order” is being sought for all the wrong reasons.
     One thing must be made clear. Republican acceptance of the policing structures will not change the working class experience of policing. Anti-social behaviour will not suddenly end. The policing structures will still serve the interests of those they were set up to serve, and that’s not the working class.
     Any notion that Sinn Féin or anybody else can enter the most reactionary institution of power in the Six Counties while the British maintain ultimate control and subvert its reason for existing is naïve.
     A glance at the South African experience post-apartheid would be a case in point. There, even in the context of democratic sovereignty, the police force has continued to protect the same vested interests in the absence of a radical social and economic programme to truly transform society.
     As Karl Marx once stated, “The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes.”
     Republicans and socialists must provide the analysis that policing within the framework of the two states in Ireland is incapable of dealing with working class concerns, while providing leadership in their communities against anti-social behaviour.
     Of course, the policing issue cannot be dealt with in isolation and must be seen within the overall context of the peace process and attempts to reinvigorate the Good Friday Agreement.
     The basis of the GFA is that the resolution of the constitutional question in Ireland is still subject to the “principle of consent” (the unionist veto).
     There is little doubt that a republican acceptance of the PSNI is the logical outcome of that agreement.
     However, given that the GFA did not change the methodology of how a state is run, the PSNI will continue to uphold the unionist veto and suppress attempts to subvert that veto, with or without Sinn Féin support.
      Finally, a question. Is it not possible, given the state that what’s labelled the peace process has got itself into, that all of us who seek radical change, including the Communist Party, have squandered the latest opportunity to put an alternative political, social and economic programme to the people of Ireland?

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