Thursday, February 02, 2006

Trust and confidence isn't quite there yet

Brian Feeney:

It's not this IMC report but the next one that counts. Everyone knows this one is going to say how well the IRA has done since last July but 'could do better'. The DUP will dance a predictable jig around continuing IRA intelligence gathering and any other straw they can grasp to avoid sharing power with Sinn Féin. It's easy for the DUP. It never had to gather intelligence. Senior figures in the NIO and RUC just handed the documents to it. During the same period security figures were just as regularly ensuring loyalist terrorists received details on republicans.

The crucial report, as Blair and Bertie have already indicated, will be at Easter. After that the DUP will come under intense pressure to participate in a Stormont executive. As usual the British government and its provincial administration here manage to portray the impasse as warring local tribes who can't agree to sit down together. Of course there's an element of truth in that but it's not that simple. The DUP's refusal to treat nationalists as equals is only one part of the equation. The British government's interminable foot-dragging on policing and security is another critical part.

Even if a blue moon shone in the sky and that oul' dinosaur that unionists have chosen as their leader agreed to deal with Sinn Féin next week, Sinn Féin would still not sign up to a deal until the British government has delivered on policing and security. The NIO successfully keeps it very quiet but their legislation on policing next month is just as important to republicans as the IRA's departure from the political scene is to unionists.

That's the main reason there won't be a complete return of the Good Friday Agreement's institutions this summer. SF would be mad to agree to something they hadn't seen in writing. After all, as Irish government sources confirmed the NIO stuck the provision about British security forces getting off scot-free into the OTR bill only a few weeks before it was published. As Sam Goldwyn used to say, "A verbal contract ain't worth the paper it's written on".

So SF will wait and see if, for once, if the British do what they promised about policing and justice and make provision for its devolution to parties in the north of Ireland. If so, then the way is open for SF to endorse the PSNI after a few more tweaks. Should that all run smoothly it will be a massive fillip for republicans. Such an outcome will provide a large political boost for SF. They will be fully vindicated in withholding their imprimatur from the PSNI. Quite simply, if all the changes were necessary to deliver genuinely locally accountable policing, then Sinn Féin was right all along, otherwise why make the changes?

Despite the headlines about the speech of the US special envoy, Mitchell Reiss, at the PSNI passing-out ceremony last week, it's clear he accepts the PSNI has a good way to go.

Not much publicity was given to his remark that, "When all political parties support the PSNI, you will have to build trust and confidence across the community". In other words, that trust and confidence isn't there yet. Secondly, a lot of coverage suggested Reiss told the new constables that the PSNI was one of the best police services in Europe.

In fact, what he said was that after all the reforms, structural changes and oversight provisions, "Many people think you have one of the best police services in Europe". Maybe those 'many people' are right. Maybe not. Hardly an objective scientific endorsement. Still, he hardly needs to produce scientific evidence. With the sort of forelock-tugging coverage the meedja here gives to any pronouncement however trite or condescending from an imperial representative, British or American, he can be sure of an uncritical reception.

The truth is it doesn't matter what Mitchell Reiss says. He's like a third wheel on a rear axle. What matters is getting the legislation right next month, then getting it through Westminster. Without it there'll be no executive because it's not worth having one without republican involvement in policing. The cause of all this?

Peter Mandelson who made a mess of policing.

Share power or else...

Criminality and the British Army


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