weekend I listened while a guest on BBC Radio Ulster's
Sunday Sequence programme explained why, in his
opinion, people in working-class nationalist areas
of Northern Ireland don't co-operate with the police,
even where crimes as horrendous as the murder of
Robert McCartney are concerned.
was responding to a suggestion by the interviewer
that this may be "a terribly troubling commentary
on the morality of the society in which we live".
guest was emphatic that it had nothing whatsoever
to do with morality, but claimed instead that "a
significant number of people who live in the North
of Ireland do not accept the legitimacy of the [Northern
Ireland] state, and never have. And, for that reason,
have never felt they could go to the security forces
or the police service . . . that there has never
been a police service they could give any allegiance
to". He went on to say that this has been true
since the foundation of Northern Ireland and, "it
may well remain that way."
he stressed, for good measure: "It has nothing
to do with people's morality. In Northern Ireland
people are just as moral, if not more moral, than
people anywhere else on these islands." So
there you have it.
is this devoutly held political principle that prevents
neighbours and friends of Robert McCartney from
helping police bring to justice the people who killed
him. Presumably the same applies in the other 30
or more instances of Catholics being murdered by
the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland since the
ceasefires of 1994. And, all the while, there were
the rest of us thinking that the likelihood of people
from those communities being threatened, beaten,
shot or stabbed for co-operating with the police
might have something to do with it.
not so, apparently. It is all about the legitimacy
or otherwise of the Northern Ireland state. Perhaps
those people from unionist working-class areas who
are reluctant to co-operate with the police also
have a problem with the legitimacy of Northern Ireland.
for morality, how can choosing to elevate a political
belief above helping bring murderers to justice
be held to be anything other than a profoundly moral
decision? But, most troubling, the person making
this spurious argument wasn't some automaton-like
Sinn Féin representative doing his best to
deflect attention away from the McCartney, McGinley
and Robinson killings. If it had been, it would
not have been surprising, and certainly not nearly
was respected Irish News columnist and former SDLP
councillor Brian Feeney on the airwaves last Sunday
telling us, despite all evidence to the contrary,
that people in nationalist areas are freely choosing
not to co-operate with the police.
that is indeed the case, it makes you wonder why
the Provisional IRA ever felt a need to intimidate
people in the first place.
Feeney was less forthcoming when asked how this
lack of support for the PSNI and the Northern Ireland
justice system can be resolved, and little wonder.
if what he says about problems with the legitimacy
of Northern Ireland is true, then, taken to its
logical conclusion, it can only mean that there
will not be widespread support for policing from
the nationalist community, short of a united Ireland.
Thankfully, though, that doesn't seem to be the
case: for every indicator points to the fact that
he is wrong in his claims.
the scores of young Catholics who have rushed to
join the PSNI, a recent survey, conducted for the
Belfast Telegraph and BBC Newsnight, found that
75 per cent of Catholics expressed a degree of confidence
in the police.
as a fellow panellist, PUP leader David Ervine,
was quick to point out, Feeney's talk of nationalists
not accepting the legitimacy of Northern Ireland
runs completely counter to the fact that nationalism,
almost in its entirety, voted in favour of the Belfast
Agreement. And, in so doing, agreed that Northern
Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom
until a majority of its people decides otherwise.
that Brian Feeney was factually wrong is beside
the point. As an important and respected opinion-former
within the nationalist community, he was morally
wrong not to publicly acknowledge, and roundly condemn,
the intimidation of potential witnesses by the Provisional
IRA. He was wrong in not calling for people to give
their full support to the PSNI, as they try to bring
to account those who are murdering with impunity
in Northern Ireland.
by confining his remarks to the rehearsal of an
obsolete, ultra-nationalist mantra about a police
service that has changed out of all recognition,
he was wrong again.
I'm sure, Feeney shifted the focus of attention
away from those who are intimidating nationalist
and unionist working-class communities, and put
it squarely on to the police. He breathed new life
into a dead argument. Bolstered by this, no doubt,
Sinn Féin has been running with variations
on the same theme since Monday past.
in life is about moral choices, not least whom you
choose to blame.