to the media on the steps of 10 Downing St. after
his September meeting with the Prime Minister,
Rev. Ian Paisley made it clear that he wanted
to make policing the litmus test for Sinn Fein's
suitability to participate in the administration
of Northern Ireland. This particular issue is
the latest in a long list of such trials for republicans.
There was ceasefire, and then the question of
its permanency followed by decommissioning and
then mothballing the IRA and thereafter the matter
of criminality. With all these stumbling blocks
addressed to the satisfaction of Clapham omnibus
commuters - whatever about the DUP - the Free
Presbyterian moderator then placed his PSNI card
on the table.
an incurable optimist could believe that even
should Sinn Fein manage to jump through this particular
hoop, the DUP would deign to share an executive
in Stormont with Gerry Adams and his party colleagues.
There remains, after all, the Paisleyite demand
to have republicans paraded in sackcloth and ashes
and even then; the old thunderer would probably
find still more hurdles for the 'Shinners' to
clear. Sinn Fein's attempted engagement with the
DUP now appears similar to the dilemma faced by
owners of aging motorcars. Every few weeks the
old banger develops another expensive problem
and when mended, only postpones the next costly
breakdown of a machine that will always cause
spite of DUP intransigence and subsequently, the
poor prospects for it accepting republicans as
executive partners, Sinn Fein will come under
enormous pressure to endorse policing in the North.
The demands on the party will be at least two
the first instance, London will continue to insist
that supporting policing is a reasonable request
in light of the new dispensation brought about
by Tony Blair and the Good Friday Agreement. Dublin
will concur, implying moreover that refusal would
place a question mark over Sinn Fein's suitability
for government in the Republic. And as with similar
hurdles in the past, government spin-doctors in
both jurisdictions will exacerbate the Ard Comhairle's
agony by briefing the media that this concession
is the last big step needed to break the impasse
in the Six Counties.
Sinn Fein party activists are constantly under
pressure from their constituents to do something
about the type of run of the mill law breaking
prevalent in every society. With law and order
high in the public eye, they will find it difficult
to explain a seeming unwillingness to support
legally sanctioned action against miscreants stealing
cars, dealing in drugs, assaulting their neighbours,
in spite of this, there is as yet surprisingly
little evidence that Sinn Fein is approaching
this matter with anything resembling an innovative
or coherent approach. Part of their difficulty
lies in the party's long standing failure to define
the state's role in society and therefore, the
function of those who enforce laws (the police
for one) made by controllers of the state apparatus.
has encouraged the debate to assume an amorphous
or at best misleading aura within republican circles.
Policing is currently being analysed as if there
is simply good, bad and indifferent policing.
This is the type of assessment that leads to the
conclusion that the key to so called good policing
is the calibre of officer recruited, the quality
of leadership provided for the force and the degree
of supervision in place.
this very British view of unified policing, no
distinction is drawn between operations conducted
for example, to curb drunken driving on one hand
and those aimed at smashing secondary, sympathetic
industrial action on the other. Under the British
model (also practised by the southern Irish authorities)
the same force that helps old ladies across busy
streets is also tasked to round up suspects for
deportation into the hands of notorious human
rights violators. This system can be quite invidious.
Refusing to support policing may be interpreted
as being soft on crime while endorsing the process
almost always leads to shoring up the state's
Fein realises that it is faced with a dilemma
over policing. Clearly many members, especially
in the Six Counties, retain a traditional reluctance
to welcome any move towards accepting policing.
If the organisation supports policing, how might
the party handle an order from the Parades Commission
to permit a march along the Garvaghy Road? Where
would they stand on a royal visit being picketed?
What about an order to physically evict demonstrators
from a visiting US warship? Imagine too, the convulsions
experienced in Sinn Fein head office if, in the
aftermath of a decision to support policing, the
Home Secretary were to introduce internment -
as John Reid is reported to have considered recently.
old Paisley is undoubtedly aware that his latest
demand will cause problems for Sinn Fein. He can
also tell from its public statements that the
republican party has no real counter proposal
on offer at the moment.
suggestion that might offer an option, though,
would be to look at the Continental system of
dividing policing roles and responsibilities.
France, Spain and Italy have all faced problems
finding acceptable policing and in each case they
have created different police organisations with
different tasks. Some of these organisations are
quietly accepted while others remain suspected
by constituencies and regions, yet it has allowed
for a modus vivendi of sorts. This may not be
an idea solution but it would allow republicans
address the issue of maintaining acceptable, civil
society standards in their constituencies without
having to either support the British state or
give a blank cheque to its legislation.