vibrant festival scene in South Armagh is dominated
by the annual Liars Convention, an entertaining contest
of fantastical tales at which reality has no place.
You might wonder what is left for satire upon learning
that the winner is invariably an elected representative
of Sinn Fein. Once it was Pat McNamee, a member of
the Northern Ireland Assembly, who is again wowing
the public. Or is it cowing the public?
was recently reported that a Gaelic footballer in
South Armagh has joined the Police Service of Northern
Ireland. This is no trivial matter for locals. Only
in November 2001 was Rule 21, banning members of the
security forces from GAA clubs, scrapped after 98
years. Armagh was among five counties that voted to
retain it. Word quickly spread that officials of the
club in question, Keady Dwyers, would convene to discuss
the matter, as though it were of grave concern to
the nation. A "Code Orange" for Gaelic games,
if you like. And in the Tom Ridge role of public watchdog
was Pat McNamee.
there is nothing to prevent a member of the police
joining a GAA club," he told the Irish News,
sounding quite tolerant, if a tad wistful for the
halcyon days when Rule 21 was as fervently defended
as, say, the unity aspiration. Note the reversed sequence:
this isn't about a cop joining the GAA, but a GAA
member joining the cops. It's a subtle but significant
difference. The former would be shunned by his GAA
colleagues; the latter might, by his example, cause
other young men to wonder what the big deal is. Thus
McNamee added this caveat: "but the necessary
changes to policing still haven't taken place."
need not be intimately familiar with South Armagh
vernacular to recognize the implicit warning -- people
who join the police undermine Sinn Fein's strategy
for reform. He reinforced this with a comment in the
Sunday Life, saying, "We understand why people
at the club wouldn't want to have a member of the
PSNI -- which is just an unreformed RUC -- in their
social or sporting circles." Imagine the howls
if GAA clubs here raised this objection to NYPD officers,
whose record on matters of brutality is hardly spotless.
is essentially saying that no nationalist -- or, more
accurately, no Catholic, since that is the footballers'
only affiliation of which McNamee can be reasonably
sure -- should join the force until it has been dismantled.
Such are the logical gymnastics demanded of Sinn Fein's
rubber men these days. The inherent embarrassment
of being forced to publicly uphold this position ensures
the independent-minded footballer is unlikely to be
stood a drink by McNamee at the next Liars Convention.
I think footballers are ideal police recruits, what
with their talent for administering savage kicks to
opponents and then protesting their innocence when
the whistle blows. But let us pretend that McNamee
has a right to object to this career move. After all,
his attitude is by no means uncommon in South Armagh,
where anyone with a government job is somewhat suspect
unless he is in a position to dispense money or gather
intelligence. However, throw a stone in the area and
you'll likely hit someone equally suspicious of Assemblyman
McNamee's job at Stormont, and you wouldn't even have
to aim carefully. It's tempting to paraphrase McNamee:
"Constitutionally, there is nothing to prevent
a member of Sinn Fein sitting in government, but unification
still hasn't taken place."
reasons behind anti-police sentiment in South Armagh
are plentiful and justified. The British Army occupation
of Crossmaglen's GAA field, a longtime sore point,
pales in comparison to the killings of GAA members
over the years by state forces (though the IRA has
also delivered permanent red cards to a few stalwarts).
So refusing to fraternize with members of PSNI is
a position that battle-hardened folks in the county
are entitled to adopt, if that be their whim. But
it doesn't follow that Sinn Fein can legitimately
don a kit and scamper onto the battlefield too. The
rules say you can't play for both sides, and the Shinners
have already chosen theirs.
it not beggar belief that republican leaders demand
their constituents not involve themselves with an
agency of the state that Sinn Fein itself helps administer?
Perhaps more so when all indicators suggest that the
party will soon embrace the new policing structures.
The situation resembles a parody of "Animal Farm,"
as leaders move into the farmhouse while insisting
the peasants must remain in the barn for their own
the daily demand by republicans for a fair and accountable
police service would be answered if their neighbors
join the force in substantial numbers. And remember
that many potential recruits from the republican ranks
have extensive experience in rooting out petty offenders,
even if the punishment dispensed usually falls short
of basic judicial norms.
that end, I suggest that since McNamee is not running
for reelection in the upcoming Assembly poll, he should
dispatch his employment application to police headquarters
promptly. The force can always use a man who knows
how to maintain order with a few well-placed words.
This article first appeared in the Irish Echo and
is carried here with permission from the author.
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