Sinn Féin delegation
A Sinn Féin delegation led by party President Gerry Adams and including Assembly members Gerry Kelly, Caitriona Ruane and Michelle Gildernew met on Wednesday morning with the PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde in Stormont.
Speaking after the meeting Gerry Adams said: “This morning’s meeting is about Sinn Féin intensifying our efforts to get policing right. That is about making sure the PSNI is held fully to account. It is our responsibility as public representatives to ensure that there are effective measures in place to catch and convict sex offenders, those who prey on the elderly, drug dealers and other gangs involved in criminality.
“It is also our responsibility to ensure an end to political policing, an end to collusion, to get MI5 out of civic policing and to see an end to plastic bullets and any other form of oppressive policing which has been the experience of citizens here.
“So what we need is a police service, not a police force. We need all-Ireland arrangements, we need common sense, practical, transparent mechanisms of policing which ensure that the type of abuses people experienced here never happen again.
“And for those families who are victims of bad policing we need truth and we need closure. At the meeting today, which was a frank meeting, we raised all of these issues.
“It is our firm view that citizens need and have the right to transparent, accountable civic policing. The Good Friday Agreement promised a new beginning to policing and today’s meeting is part of our effort to achieve that.”
Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle Call Special Ard Fheis on Policing
Sinn Féin’s Ard Chomhairle convened yesterday at The Great Southern Hotel beside Dublin Airport to discuss a motion on the issue of policing put forward by Party President Gerry Adams MP which required the party to convene an Special Ard Fheis to change its policy on the issue.
There were 80 people attendance at the meeting including the 56-strong Ard Chomhairle, TDs, MPs, MLAs and heads of Departments.
The first half of the meeting was devoted to an important report from Party President Gerry Adams and Leo Green on political negotiations which had taken place over Christmas. This report was followed by several hours of discussion including detailed questions and answers.
The second half of the meeting discussed a proposal on the policing issue proposed by Gerry Adams and seconded by the party’s Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness. The proposal was debated at great length and when eventually voted upon received in excess of the two thirds majority required for an Ard Fheis to be called.
Speaking after the meeting Gerry Adams announced to the waiting media that the Ard Chomhairle had backed his proposal and that if others, including the two governments and the DUP, responded positively the Ard Fheis would take place this January.
The Ard Chomhairle also decided not to publish the motion to go before the Ard Fheis until all party members had received it. Included in the motion is a commitment to:
Human Rights and Truth Recovery
Ending Repression and Political Policing
A widespread discussion on the issue within Sinn Féin structures and externally is starting this week under the direction of a group headed by Party Vice President Pat Doherty, Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald, Declan Kearney and Rita O’Hare.
In the run up to the Ard Fheis, the party leadership will conduct a widespread debate within the party which will be led by party Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald. Sinn Féin will also hold a series of meetings with the wider republican and nationalist community, including the families of our patriot dead and victims of state murder and collusion.
Speaking at the Great Southern Hotel Gerry Adams said: “Our view is straight forward. We are committed to Irish unity. We support civic policing through a police service, which is representative of the community it serves, free from partisan political control and democratically accountable. We support fair, impartial and effective delivery of the rule of law. What we don’t support and what we will never allow to happen again is repressive, sectarian and political policing.
“I realise that this is a very difficult issue for many nationalists and republicans, not because we oppose law and order but because our experience is of a police service which served only one section of the community and which was involved in murder, torture, collusion and shoot-to-kill. However, the achievement of the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement would be an enormous achievement and I believe that we have now reached the point of taking the next step. If it succeeds it will advance the struggle for equality and the search for a just and lasting peace on the island of Ireland.”
Féin Secure Reversal of Proposal to Integrate PSNI and MI5
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Policing and Justice Gerry Kelly today said that intense and detailed negotiations between Sinn Féin and the British government in recent weeks have secured the reversal of the British government's proposal to integrate the PSNI and MI5.
Mr Kelly said: "Our objective has been to secure accountable and representative policing. We have made considerable progress in that over recent years. At St Andrews however the British government proposed the integration of MI5 into policing structures in the north which the Irish government acquiesced to and which the SDLP claimed as a victory.
"This was a fundamental mistake on their part. Sinn Féin rejected these proposals and undoing the damage done has been a primary issue for Sinn Féin over the Christmas negotiations.
"Our objective has been to firewall local policing from the malign and corruptive control of MI5. The proposals today remove MI5 from policing structures in Ireland.
"For decades people across this island have suffered enormously as a result of the activities of MI5, which has been responsible for collusion and state sponsored killings in Dublin and Monaghan and across the north.
"The St Andrews proposals would have embedded MI5 into civic policing with the real potential of again creating a force within a force.
"The fact that the Irish government did not oppose the inclusion of these proposals and did not assist in their removal is staggering, particularly given the extent of collusion which has now been confirmed by Justice Barron in his reports.
"The SDLP also publicly supported these proposals and bizarrely claimed them as a victory.
"Sinn Féin rejected the St Andrews proposals on MI5.
"The new statement by the British government today abandons their proposals to integrate MI5 into policing structures. This means that there will now be:
"Sinn Féin is determined to achieve a new beginning to policing.
"One of our key demands in these negotiations was to stop MI5 having any role in civic policing here.
"Today's proposals will go a long way towards achieving that objective and go far beyond the proposals agreed by the SDLP at St Andrews."
Tony Blair's Written Statement on MI5 Issued 10th January 2007
"There has been some concern over the arrangements set out in Annex E, which was published along with the St Andrews Agreement. The Government is therefore issuing a new statement in relation to national security.
This will help bring Northern Ireland into line with a European approach which would provide a consistent and co-ordinated response to the threat from international terrorism which concerns us all. The threat presented by international terrorism to citizens was graphically illustrated by the train bombings in Madrid and on the streets of London in July 2005. The loss of life was horrific and completely unacceptable. The handling of national security intelligence throughout the European Union, including Northern Ireland, is designed to provide a consistent and co-ordinated response to the grave threat posed by international terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Security Service will be completely distinct and entirely separate bodies. All necessary interaction between the Security Service and the PSNI, for example in response to the threat of international terrorism, will, as directed by the Chief Constable, be by way of liaison. No police officers will be seconded to or under the control of the Security Service. The small number of police officers who act in a liaison capacity with the Security Service will be PSNI Headquarters staff acting in that role for fixed time-limited periods to the extent that the Chief Constable deems necessary for them to perform their duties. Policing is the responsibility solely of the PSNI. The Security Service will have no role whatsoever in civic policing.
Leadership and direction of all police work is the responsibility of the Chief Constable who will remain accountable to the Policing Board.
All PSNI officers will be employed by the PSNI and will be accountable solely to the Chief Constable and to the Policing Board and upon transfer to the Ministers for Justice. The Patten policing reforms will be maintained and there will be no diminution in police accountability.
When the Policing Board establishes a special purposes committee under section 28 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003 the Government will make any necessary statutory provision to ensure it will be representative of all political parties on the Board.
Future Justice Ministers will receive the same level of information as does the Board and the special purposes committee.
The Ombudsman will have statutory powers to hold to account all police officers. The Ombudsman will also have statutory access to all information held by the police. The Ombudsman's Office and the Security Service will agree arrangements for the Ombudsman's access to sensitive information held by the Service, where necessary for the discharge of the Ombudsman's statutory duties.
Furthermore, I can confirm that the Government will invite Lord Carlile, and any successor, to review annually the operation of the arrangements for handling national security-related matters in Northern Ireland. In the course of his review, he will consult the Chief Constable, the Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman, as well as taking into account any views which the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and, in due course, Justice Ministers may put to him."
Policing at any price?
We ask former republican prisoners to give their views on the subject that’s got everyone talking
The highly divisive issue of policing has in recent months taken centre stage in determining whether the political structures of the North will stand or fall. Since the peace process commenced in earnest with the IRA ceasefire of 1994, there have been numerous points heralded as ‘historic’, but the importance of the decision on whether Sinn Féin should accept and support the PSNI cannot be over-estimated.
The Andersonstown News spoke to four former political prisoners to gauge their opinion on the current policing situation.
Jim Auld, Director of Community Restorative Justice Ireland, who was one of the 14 ‘hooded men’, so-called because British Army and RUC men put hoods over their heads before subjecting them to prolonged periods of torture, said he had mixed thoughts on the matter.
“The British government were found guilty in the European Court of Human Rights for torturing me. They used the same techniques as the Americans are using in Abu Ghraib prison today, and the people who carried those acts out on behalf of the British government were policemen.
“I don’t know if any of those people who carried that out are now senior people in the PSNI. So there needs to be a resolution of the past wrong-doings of the police.
“In terms of the work I presently do, it is very clear there needs to be a civil police service that is working for a safer community and that is prepared to work alongside the community to create a safer place for me, my family, and my community to live in,” said Jim.
Sinn Féin Dunmurry Cross councillor Jennifer McCann, who was imprisoned for a total of 10 years in Armagh and Maghaberry prisons from March 1980 until September 1990, emphasised the significance of the issue for republicans.
“Sinn Féin is the only party that has brought the whole issue forward. Tony Blair made a statement today [Wednesday] saying that MI5 would no longer have a role in civic policing here and that has been won through Sinn Féin pushing that in negotiations.
“The community needs a police service and I think everybody recognises that, but it can’t be the same type of police force we had before, where people were murdered through collusion. There is going to have to be moves in terms of accountability and the transfer of powers by May 2008.
“It has to be a transparent accountable police service and it isn’t that at the moment, but that is what we need to be aiming for.”
Former Antrim Gaelic football manager Mickey Culbert, who was imprisoned in the H-blocks from 1978 until 1993, believes that the community is moving towards giving their support to the PSNI.
“If all other considerations are put into place then it is time to support the PSNI.
“Within the current context, if we have non-political policing I think there is quite a surge of opinion from our community in general to satisfy our needs for policing. I think we are moving towards that scenario but we must tie it into the broad political settlement – we can’t have it in isolation, and I think that is what Sinn Féin are holding out for – to get the temporary political settlement here for localised government and accountability, and at least have policing done by somebody in the island of Ireland.
“The PSNI have made considerable changes in their structures, but what I am very cagey about is the political policing which of course brings MI5 into the equation.
“Their Prime Minister this morning issued a statement about it saying that there will be a degree of MI5 involvement here, and that is what they were initially set up for – to deal with the Irish,” said Mickey Culbert.
Seán Osborne, a prominent community worker imprisoned for five years between 1978 and 1983, feels that the PSNI would be more acceptable to his community if those involved in collusion were held to account.
“The community is crying out for a police service, but it is not crying out for a police service at any cost. The accountability issue is a major factor – ask Raymond McCord, who would have grown up with an allegiance to the Crown and the police force, and his opinions would probably be very similar. So families who have lost loved ones at the hands of loyalists and had the investigations into the murders covered up by elements of the RUC/PSNI would not accept the PSNI at this point.
“Undoubtedly, elements within the PSNI would have been involved in the murder of nationalists, and it is not just a few bad apples as unionists would phrase it, so until those involved are made accountable for their actions, Sinn Féin’s stance of holding out on policing is correct,” said Seán.
One for all, or one for some?
Only a graduate in criminology or a spook-watcher could claim to understand the full import of yesterday's statement by Tony Blair on the role of MI5 in future policing structures here.
What's clear is that the British have conceded Sinn Féin's demand that a Chinese wall be built between MI5 and their new spook palace in Holywood and the PSNI in their Knock headquarters.
Fears expresssed by the SDLP that divorcing MI5 from PSNI oversight structures makes the potential for meddling by the intelligence services greater deserve a full airing. However, one suspects that, having signed up to the PSNI from day one only to see the British continue to make reforms, the minority nationalist party is more interested in out-Sinn Féining Sinn Féin than in getting this issue right.
A similar exercise is afoot in the unionist community where the hapless UUP is making itself a laughing stock by trying to be more extreme than the DUP in its response to every political development.
Ultimately, MI5 remains a treacherous and murderous body which will be treated with distrust and suspicion by nationalists.
Its role in the North over the past two generations has been uniformly negative and it can have no role to play in building the peace.
However, the focus needs to remain on PSNI reform rather than the neutralisation, important as that is, of MI5.
The evidence to date is that the PSNI is a force in process of reform.
The slow pace of that reform is a matter of grave concern to nationalists who look aghast at former RUC members rising to prominence with the new force.
Indeed, given that the RUC was regarded by nationalists as a policing obscenity, it shows great forebearance on the part of Sinn Féin and the SDLP that they are willing to accept the reality of former RUC troops within the PSNI. The task before nationalist leaders is to push forward reform within the PSNI by getting the force to face up to its deep-seated and institutionalised sectarianism.
This is seen in the flying of union flags and the sporting of poppies — while there is no similar show of tricolours or Easter lilies — and in the attempts of PSNI spinmeisters to pretend that the reforms promised by Patten have been delivered.
Far from it.
Patten identified the core policing crisis here: unionists regarded the police as their state militia tasked with defending the union with Britain; nationalists regarded the police as a weapon of oppression.
The DUP and much of the media remain in denial about that key fact, but shifting those perceptions to ensure the police are seen as a service for all rather than a force for some is the crucial challenge which lies ahead.
The vox pop in the Andersonstown News on Monday showed the high levels of distrust and antipathy which nationalists feel towards the PSNI. However, a majority of republicans are now convinced, as the SDLP has been for some time, that the battle for real policing needs to be taken into the bunkered corridors of Knock.
Those RUC diehards remaining within the PSNI and the DUP no-men have much more to fear from Sinn Féin going on the Policing Board than nationalists do.
DUP Renaged on Pledge
Sinn Féin have published a paragraph of the statement which the DUP had agreed to say before the New Year on policing and justice.
In a statement released this morning, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP said: "In the run up to the meeting of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle on December 29th the DUP were given the text of the motion I was putting to the Ard Chomhairle calling a special Ard Fheis on policing. They said that the required words were in the motion and that if the Ard Chomhairle accepted the motion the DUP would respond to this in Ian Paisley's New Year statement.
"The words (of the New Year statement) given to Sinn Féin were:
"The DUP has always maintained that it will support devolution of policing and justice if there is sufficient confidence across the community. The words needed are those contained in the Ard Chomhairle motion. Provided Sinn Féin translate into action the commitments contained in that motion, the DUP will accept devolution of policing and justice in the timeframe set out in the St. Andrews Agreement or even before that date".
"This was acceptable to me and I proceeded to the Ard Chomhairle meeting.
"The agreed words were never said, which is why there is now a crisis in the process.
"So the context has been changed completely. The DUP have refused to accept power sharing within the St. Andrews timeframe. The basis of the Ard Chomhairle motion has been removed.
"We have to find another basis to move forward. It will be very difficult but I see this as a challenge to be faced and overcome.
"Despite these very profound difficulties I stand by my remarks of December 29th. I put the motion on policing to the Ard Chomhairle because it was the right thing to do. It is still the right thing to do.
"Republicans and nationalists, like all other citizens, have the right to a civic, non-partisan and accountable policing service.
"There is still an urgent need to get the power sharing arrangements in place, with the DUP in the Executive, as is their entitlement.
"Tomorrow the Ard Chomhairle will have to judge all of these matters in the round. Our objective has to be to find a sustainable way forward."
In the DUP's New Year statement that was released, Ian Paisley - after Sinn Féin's Ard Chomhairle agreed to call a special Ard Fheis on policing - merely said that if Sinn Féin support policing his party would "not be found wanting" on the devolution of policing and justice.
He has denied he ever agreed that policing and justice powers would be transferred to the Assembly by 2008.
Yesterday, he accused Sinn Féin of trying to renegotiate the St Andrews proposals.
Mr Paisley said there was no requirement in the St Andrews document for his party to agree to the devolution of policing and justice by May next year.
He said it contained only an aspiration of the two governments that they would like it done.
"People should understand there is not a line in the St Andrews report at all about saying that, at a certain date, we must hand over these powers and work a joint system in security," he said.
Today, the DUP leader again denied he ever agreed that policing and justice powers would be transferred by May 2008.
Mr Paisley said: "I am not in the business of saying one thing in private and another in public.
"It is time for Sinn Féin to get down to business and deliver support for the police, the courts and the rule of law.
"Delivery from them, instead of delay and diversion, can help to start building confidence."
Sinn Féin Ard
Fheis to go Ahead on January 28th
Speaking following a meeting of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle in Dublin this afternoon, Gerry Adams said that the party's Ard Chomhairle has backed a proposal for an Extraordinary Ard Fheis to go ahead on January 28th.
Mr Adams said today's Ard Chomhairle decision was hugely courageous and will ensure that the political process continues to move forward, adding that he believes that the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement is now "within our grasp".
The Sinn Féin President said the party wants to get policing right and that the Extraordinary Sinn Féin Ard Fheis is the important next step in this process.
"In response, the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle today took the historic and courageous decision to proceed to an Ard Fheis on policing, despite the failure of the DUP to respond positively.
"If the Ard Fheis adopts the proposed motion then we will have the potential, for the first time ever, for the full involvement by Irish republicans in policing structures across the island.
"The Ard Chomhairle has decided to proceed with the planned Ard Fheis on January 28th and on the basis of the motion agreed by the Ard Chomhairle on December 29th, which commits Sinn Féin to:
"The Ard Chomhairle is proposing that an Extraordinary Ard Fheis adopts this motion and gives the Ard Chomhairle the responsibility and authority to fully implement all elements of it.
"The necessary context for this is the re-establishment of the political institutions and confirmation that policing and justice powers will be transferred to these institutions or when acceptable new partnership arrangements to implement the Good Friday Agreement are in place.
"It would be entirely wrong to allow the most negative elements of unionism a veto over republican and nationalist efforts to achieve the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin will not be paralysed by rejectionist elements of the DUP.
"There are also those within the PSNI who are opposed to change. In this context, I have been made aware of incidents in parts of South Derry, Castlederg and County Armagh where local PSNI units are involved in trying to destabilise nationalist communities. This is entirely predictable and needs to be stopped.
"Our objective is to secure a proper policing service and to hold that policing service, once achieved, fully to account.
"We have already achieved enormous progress on the issues of democratic accountability, human rights protections and the ending of political and repressive policing. Over recent days, we have also seen progress and changes on the key issues of the removal of MI5 from local policing structures and on the use of plastic bullets.
"I believe that the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement is now within our grasp.
"Sinn Féin wants to get policing right.
"The Extraordinary Sinn Féin Ard Fheis is the important next step."
Motion for the Extraordinary Ard Fheis on policing
This Ard Fheis reiterates Sinn Féin’s political commitment to bringing about Irish re-unification and the full integration of political, economic, social and cultural life on the island.
This Ard Fheis supports civic policing through a police service which is representative of the community it serves, free from partisan political control and democratically accountable.
We support fair, impartial and effective delivery of the rule of law.
The changes to policing secured in legislation need to be implemented fully. The truth about wrongdoing by British military, intelligence and policing agencies needs to be uncovered and acknowledged. Sinn Féin supports the demands for this from the families of victims. The PSNI needs to make strenuous efforts to earn the trust and confidence of nationalists and republicans. Gardaí corruption and malpractice – which has been exposed in the Morris Tribunal and the Abbeylara inquiry in the 26 counties – shows the need for constant vigilance and oversight. These inquiries and the ill-treatment of republicans by the Garda Special Branch also provide compelling reasons as to why the responsibility of political parties and representatives should be to hold the police to account in a fair and publicly transparent way.
This Ard Fheis is totally opposed to political, sectarian and repressive policing. The experience of nationalists and republicans in the Six Counties is of a partisan, unionist militia which engaged in harassment, torture, assassination, shoot-to-kill and collusion with death squads.
The Good Friday Agreement requires and defines ‘a new beginning to policing’ as an essential element of the peace process. The Good Friday Agreement also requires functioning, powersharing and all-Ireland political institutions.
The British Government have agreed to the transfer of powers on policing and justice away from Westminster to locally-elected political institutions and have set out the departmental model to which these powers will be transferred. In these circumstances authority over policing and justice will lie in Ireland.
We note the British Government’s new policy statement of 10 January 2007 which removes MI5 from policing structures in Ireland. This removes the proposals to embed MI5 into civic policing and removes the danger of again creating a force within a force.
We note also the commitment by PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde that plastic bullets will not be used for purposes of public order/crowd control and his acknowledgement of the hurt resulting from injuries and death of innocent people including children.
These weapons should never be used again. Sinn Féin will continue to campaign for a total ban.
This Ard Fheis notes the refusal of the DUP leader Ian Paisley to publicly commit to power-sharing and participation in the all-Ireland political institutions by 26 March 2007.
Before the Ard Chomhairle meeting on 29 December the DUP had agreed words which they would release in response to the Ard Chomhairle accepting the policing motion put by the Party President. We note the DUP’s failure to keep to this commitment.
It is clear that elements of the DUP are determined to use policing and other issues to prevent progress, resist powersharing and equality and oppose any all-Ireland development. This is unacceptable.
It is the responsibility of the two Governments and pro-Agreement parties across the island to resist this and to ensure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
Sinn Féin is committed to justice. Sinn Féin is committed to law and order and to stable and inclusive partnership government, and, in good faith and in a spirit of genuine partnership, to the full operation of stable power-sharing government and the north south and east west arrangements set out in the Good Friday Agreement.
The responsibility of the police is to defend and uphold the rights of citizens. In order to fulfil this role they require critical support.
Sinn Féin reiterates our support for An Garda Síochána and commits fully to:
To achieve this the Ard Chomhairle is hereby mandated to:
Appoint Sinn Féin representatives to the Policing Board and the District Policing Partnership Boards to ensure that:
Ensure Sinn Féin representatives robustly support the demands for:
The Ard Chomhairle recommends:
That this Ard Fheis endorses the Ard Chomhairle motion. That the Ard Chomhairle is mandated to implement this motion only when the power-sharing institutions are established and when the Ard Chomhairle is satisfied that the policing and justice powers will be transferred. Or if this does not happen within the St Andrews timeframe, only when acceptable new partnership arrangements to implement the Good Friday Agreement are in place.
Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle Agree to Take Up Policing Board Places
Sinn Fein spokesperson on Policing, Alex Maskey, today confirmed that his party would be taking its three places on the new Policing Board. The decision was made at a meeting of the party Ard Chomhairle in Dublin yesterday.
Mr Maskey said: "Some weeks ago Gerry Adams indicated that in the event of the political institutions going live he would propose to the Ard Chomhairle that Sinn Féin take up our places on the Policing Board. At yesterday's meeting the Ard Chomhairle agreed that Daithi McKay, Martina Anderson and myself would go forward to represent the party.
"We have set ourselves a number of objectives which we intend to deliver through our membership of the Policing Board and the local DPPS:
"These are obviously significant challenges for republicans and over the past two weeks we have been engaged in a series of meetings with the current Policing Board, the Ombudsman and with victims. Tomorrow we will meet with the Oversight commissioner.
"Sinn Féin are going onto the Policing Board to hold the PSNI to account. On the Policing Board we will provide the voice for communities who have in the past experienced only bad policing.
"We want to play a constructive role on the Board but we will not shy away from challenging, or criticising, or questioning policing decisions and policy when the need arises.
"Sinn Féin argued for a strong and effective Policing Board as a key accountability mechanism. We argued and gained significant additional powers for the body over a series of negotiations with the British government.
"Our participation on the Policing Board and local DPPs will, I believe, ensure that the sort of effective, accountable and non-partisan policing service demanded by the Good Friday Agreement is delivered in the time ahead."
New Policing Board Members Named
A former Sinn Fein mayor of Derry is to join the party's first three Assembly representatives on the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
Gearoid O'hEara was one of the independent members of the board appointed today by Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain.
Former Progressive Unionist Party deputy leader David Rose will replace East Belfast Assembly member Dawn Purvis as the loyalist representative on the 19-member board which holds senior police officers to account for their decisions and officers' actions.
And while the chair and vice chair of the previous board, Sir Desmond Rea and Barry Gilligan, will be returning to the board along with former Ireland rugby international Trevor Ringland, former nationalist SDLP Assembly member Joe Byrne and Pauline McCabe will not be taking seats.
Sinn Fein has already announced former Belfast Lord Mayor Alex Maskey and fellow Assembly members Martina Anderson and Daithi McKay will be their first ever political representatives on the board.
The move follows the party's historic decision in January to get involved in policing structures in Northern Ireland and work with Sir Hugh Orde's Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The party's decision paved the way for the restoration of devolved government.
The board is made up of 10 political representatives and nine independent members.
The DUP has appointed Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, Upper Bann MP David Simpson, West Tyrone MLA Tom Buchanan and North Down MLA Peter Weir as its political nominees.
Ulster Unionist MLAs Basil McCrea and Leslie Cree and nationalist SDLP Assembly member Dolores Kelly have also been appointed.
Mr Hain said the fact that the membership of the new board would for the first time include all representatives of the community was another significant step forward.
"Effective policing has to be informed by the different voices within our communities," the Northern Ireland Secretary said.
"The wide variety of background and experience represented by the political and independent members on this new board will ensure that all interests are taken into account.
"The Northern Ireland Policing Board has been one of the outstanding success stories of the Belfast Agreement. I would like to pay tribute to all the former members of the board for the significant contribution they have made to policing in Northern Ireland and their considerable courage and personal commitment to the Board and its work.
"I have every confidence that the newly reconstituted board will continue to take this good work forward."
Among the other independent members returning to the board are health worker Rosaleen Moore, lecturer Brian Rea and former Commission for Racial Equality member Suneil Sharma will also return.
Mary McKee, a director of the north Belfast-based regeneration charity Groundwork Northern Ireland will also serve on the board.
Sinn Fein Policing Board member Daithi McKay pledged that the party's involvement would ensure full accountability of the force.
The North Antrim MLA said: "Sinn Féin brought the policing issue into the political negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement. It has been part of every set of political talks since.
"The Policing Board is charged with holding the PSNI to account. Our presence on the Board will be the guarantee that this happens. This is a key area of work for Sinn Féin.
"It is not the job of Sinn Féin members on the Policing Board to act as cheerleaders for the PSNI or rubber stamp PSNI policy and actions.
"Sinn Féin will provide the voice for communities who have in the past experienced only bad policing. We want to play a constructive role on the Board but we will not shy away from challenging, or criticising, or questioning policing decisions and policy when the need arises.
"Sinn Féin will ask the awkward questions and demand that we get straight answers.
"The prize of a truly accountable and representative policing service which serves the entire community is achievable and I believe that our contribution on the Policing Board will be key to achieving this goal."
Rea re-elected Chair of Policing Board
Sinn Fein Attend Policing Board for First Time
Sir Desmond Rea was today re-elected unopposed as chairman of the new look Northern Ireland Policing Board.
And property developer Barry Gilligan was again appointed vice-chairman of the authority, which for the first time includes Sinn Fein representatives.
The Board holds Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde to account at its first public meeting in Belfast next week.
Sir Desmond has been the chairman on the Policing Board ever since it was established in November 2001.
Initially former Catholic priest Denis Bradley was the vice chair. Mr Gilligan succeeded him in April 2006.
Last month Sir Desmond and Mr Gilligan held their first meeting with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams following his party's decision on January to get involved in policing structures in Northern Ireland for the first time.
Sinn Fein later nominated former Belfast Lord Mayor Alex Maskey, Foyle Assembly member Martina Anderson and North Antrim MLA Daithi McKay to the board.
A fourth party member, former Derry Mayor Gearoid O hEara was appointed as an independent member of the board by Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain.
As they arrived for the meeting, Mr Maskey said his party's involvement in the board was a significant step forward in the effort to deliver a fully accountable and acceptable policing service.
"We have set ourselves a number of objectives which we intend to deliver through our membership of the Policing Board and the local District Policing Partnerships," the South Belfast MLA said.
"These are to ensure a civic policing service, accountable and representative of the community, is delivered as quickly as possible; that the Chief Constable and the PSNI are publicly held to account; that policing with the community is achieved as the core function of the PSNI; that political policing, collusion and 'the force within a force' is a thing of the past and to oppose any involvement by the British Security Service/MI5 in civic policing; that the issue of plastic bullets is properly addressed.
"Sinn Fein will not be afraid to confront head on issues of concern to ourselves and people we represent. The days of PSNI officers coming to the Policing Board to have decisions rubber stamped and endorsed are over."
Sinn Féin in First Public Policing Board Meeting
Sinn Féin members today took part in their first public meeting of the newly constituted six county Policing Board.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing issues, Alex Maskey, told the Chief Constable Hugh Orde his party wanted to see unarmed officers "sooner rather than later".
Robert McCartney's sisters were also there, seeking the latest information on his killing two years ago. Mr Orde said he had already dealt with the issue at a recent private session of the board.
Members of the board sat at the table and posed for cameras last week - but there were no PSNI officers present and the talking was behind closed doors.
At today's public meeting, other issues raised included John Stevens' investigation into collusion between British security forces and unionist paramilitaries.
Speaking after the meeting, Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey said that his party was on the board to ensure real accountability, representativeness and impartiality.
Mr Maskey said: "We set out in detail last week our objectives in joining the Policing Board. Already we have undertaken a significant amount of preparatory work and are keen to get down to the real business of holding policing to account.
"Today we tabled a number of questions for the PSNI Chief Constable to deal with including the lack of co-operation with inquests into a series of killings in Belfast and Tyrone, the lack of movement towards an unarmed service and the continuing under representation of Catholics in senior positions.
"While public sessions like the one today are important, particularly to allow members of the public to ask questions, much of our work will take place on the committees and progress on that element of the board's work was made last week.
"Sinn Féin are serious about our commitment to achieving an accountable and acceptable policing service. Today is another step along that road. We want to shape future policing structures to ensure real accountability, representativeness and impartiality. That is our job on the Policing Board."
Sinn Féin voted in January to back policing in the six counties for the first time.
Its three representatives on the board are Alex Maskey, Martina Anderson and Daithi McKay.
The DUP is the largest political party on the board, with four members. The Ulster Unionists have two and the SDLP has one.
The board also has nine independents.
MI5 takes charge of North's security
MI5 has taken charge of national security in Northern Ireland for the first time, it was revealed today. Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde handed over control to the British intelligence agency, which is opening a new £20 million office near Belfast.
The transfer of powers took place at midday on Wednesday, his office confirmed today. A spokesperson added: "All the necessary service level agreements are in place and this step brings the Police Service of Northern Ireland into line with the arrangements in all other UK police services."
The handover has been on the cards for some time as part of the new policing and security arrangements in Northern Ireland. But it means that for the first time in the history of the North, MI5 will have the lead role in national security intelligence gathering, which will range from international terrorism to the threat posed by dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.
The British government has already made it clear that the agency will not have any part in civic policing - a move aimed at reassuring Sinn Fein.
The PSNI and the agency will operate as distinct and entirely separate bodies. But many republicans and nationalists backing the Chief Constable and his policing service, retain lingering doubts about MI5's future role because of its controversial history in Northern Ireland.
A staff of at least 200 will work out of the new offices inside Palace Barracks, a military base at Holywood, Co Down, which are expected to be fully operational by the end of next month. The building will also serve as a back-up to MI5's London HQ, Thames House, in case it is ever attacked.
MI5 has operated in Northern Ireland for many years and the secret work of the organisation has been linked to several controversial murders - including the shooting in February 1989 of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane - through the use of loyalist paramilitary and republican informants.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan said MI5 will enjoy carte blanche over national intelligence without adhering to safeguards recommended in the 1999 Patten Report shake-up of Northern Ireland policing. He added that incoming police ombudsman Al Hutchinson would lose scrutiny powers.
"The original Patten Report was clear that the accountable police service should be in the lead on intelligence matters. Under these arrangements, that will not be the case," he said. "It is the unaccountable security services who will be in the lead on intelligence policing."
PSNI sets up new unit to work with M15
The PSNI has set up a special new unit to work directly with MI5, according to a formal agreement between the two organisations published for the first time today.
The working agreement unveiled today - an 11-page Memorandum of Understanding - encompasses the arrangements for ensuring that PSNI officers see MI5 intelligence that might help the fight against ordinary crime. The document also goes into considerable detail about how the arrangements will work - including the provision that PSNI officers will be allowed to use MI5's canteen.
Last week the PSNI handed responsibility for national security in Northern Ireland to MI5, meaning the Security Service will now direct most anti-terrorist operations.
The Government ordered the handover two years ago, saying it would pave the way for devolving justice powers to Stormont and bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.
MI5 has built new Northern Ireland headquarters at Palace Barracks in Holywood, and recently began advertising for new recruits to staff the building.
MI5 and PSNI officers have been in joint operations for most of the past two years, but Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde said he would not agree the final handover until concerns about intelligence sharing were addressed.
Those arrangements are set out in detail in the Memorandum, which includes five principles for intelligence sharing set down last year by Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan.
The memorandum was agreed last month. More detailed service level agreements, which will remain secret, were completed this month, paving the way for last week's handover.
Because the memorandum formalises arrangements between the police and MI5, it will be read with considerable interest by police forces in Great Britain, which may now seek similar agreements.
The document says MI5 is "committed to legality, integrity, objectivity and proportionality."
"These oversight arrangements are designed to ensure that the Security Service is operating within the law, that its activities are proportionate and necessary, that it has the correct operational priorities and that it is making the best use of its resources."
The memo says liaison between the PSNI and MI5 is "an essential protection against concerns that some intelligence might not be mutually visible to the PSNI and Security Service".
It also confirms that police officers will mount all arrest operations, put together cases against people suspected of national security offences, and continue to run the "great majority" of terrorist informers.
CLIO officers will be responsible for passing PSNI intelligence on to MI5.
backs power-sharing deal with Sinn Fein
The DUP has said it has agreed
a deal with Sinn Fein over the devolution of policing and justice
powers from Westminster to Northern Ireland.
PM Gordon Brown is expected to go to Northern Ireland later, along with his Irish counterpart, Brian Cowen.
A plenary session of the assembly to discuss the deal begins at 0830 GMT.
"We have had a very constructive meeting of our assembly group and I had the opportunity to put to them proposals which we have been working on," said Mr Robinson.
"Everyone present believes that this is consistent with our election manifesto and pledges we have made to the people.
"We look forward to going to Hillsborough and the document should be published."
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the DUP's decision had followed "a lengthy stretch of negotiations".
Commending his own party's negotiating team, he added: "I believe that the Assembly and political institutions can now proceed on the basis of equality, fairness and partnership.
"They also have to deliver for all citizens, that is the collective responsibility of all the political parties."
On Thursday night Mr Robinson said there was a basis for a deal which he could recommend to his party and to the community.
DUP assembly members gathered at Stormont at about 2200 GMT.
"An essential element of the Democratic Unionist manifesto is the requirement for community confidence and we believe that this can be the basis of gaining that confidence," Mr Robinson said.
"It does more than dealing with devolving further powers. It deals with how we deal with the powers that we have."
The DUP decision has been welcomed by Alliance Party leader David Ford, who is widely tipped to be the new justice minister.
He said: "This is what the people of Northern Ireland have waited so long to hear and it means that the Executive can get back to the real work of providing quality services and strengthening our economy.
"We may face a few challenges in the coming months as regards the justice devolution process, but I am very hopeful that this will signal a new, more positive era for Northern Ireland."
However Traditional Unionist Voice, which opposes mandatory coalition with Sinn Fein, described the DUP as "snowmen who had melted".
Its leader Jim Allister said: "The DUP MLAs who buckled tonight not only let themselves down, but, more importantly, let their country down."
Referring to the fact that 14 DUP assembly members reportedly voted against a deal on the table on Monday, he added: "The deal the DUP so meekly accepted tonight is the same deal they rejected.
"The deal hasn't changed, only the snowmen of the DUP who melted once the heat came on."
Earlier on Thursday it emerged that policing and justice powers could be transferred to Northern Ireland in April if the DUP and Sinn Fein were able to reach a deal.
Talks between the British and Irish governments, Sinn Fein and the DUP have been going on for the last 10 days.
The relationship between Sinn Fein and the DUP - Northern Ireland's two biggest political parties - has been strained for some time because they disagreed about the timetable for the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to Stormont.
How the Northern Ireland deal unfolded
The breakthrough deal that saved Northern Ireland's power-sharing government from collapse came after the longest round of continuous negotiations in the history of the peace process.
The epic summit at Hillsborough Castle was convened on the back of two turbulent months that saw the Stormont Executive plunged into crisis by the bitter wrangle between the DUP and Sinn Fein over the stalled devolution of policing powers.
The political drama was played out against the backdrop of a series of shocking personal revelations about high-profile figures in both parties.
Here are the key events in another remarkable chapter in the efforts to forge a more stable future for Northern Ireland:
December 7: Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness warns of deep trouble for the power-sharing administration unless a date for devolving justice and policing is agreed by Christmas.
December 14: A routine media conference turns ugly when Mr McGuinness and DUP First Minister Peter Robinson engage in a very public spat over the failure to secure a timetable for the transfer.
December 18: Gerry Adams faces criticism for his handling of sex abuse allegations against his brother Liam when his estranged sibling's daughter and alleged victim Aine Tyrell goes public with the historic claims. The Sinn Fein president, who later reveals that his own father subjected family members to abuse, vehemently denies any wrongdoing.
December 28: DUP announces that Iris Robinson - Strangford MP and wife of the First Minister - is stepping down from public life because she is suffering from mental illness.
January 7: Mrs Robinson's lover is revealed as 21-year-old Kirk McCambley (he was 19 at time of affair). A BBC documentary also discloses that the politician obtained £50,000 from two wealthy developers to help her toyboy set up a business, keeping £5,000 in cash as a cut and failing to declare her financial interest in the matter. The Spotlight investigation implicates Mr Robinson, alleging that he did not alert the appropriate authorities to his wife's dealings when he became aware of them. The DUP leader refutes the claims.
On the same day, senior DUP figure Lord Morrow says he does not envisage devolution in the lifetime of the current assembly (next election is scheduled for 2011).
January 8: High-profile Catholic police officer Peadar Heffron is critically injured in a dissident republican car bomb attack near his home in Randalstown, Co Antrim.
Mr Robinson vows to clear his name and commissions an independent lawyer to probe his conduct.
January 11: Mr Robinson steps down as First Minister for six weeks to give him time to care for his wife. DUP Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster takes over his duties. Remaining as DUP leader, he makes clear that he will continue to be involved in devolution negotiations.
That night, DUP and Sinn Fein meet for the first meaningful talks of the new year.
January 12: Party representatives meet for further negotiations as hopes rise of a breakthrough.
While hardline DUP MP Gregory Campbell insists there is still not enough confidence in the unionist community for the transfer of policing powers, his party colleague and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson strikes a more positive note.
Gerry Adams says talks are at a "sensitive and serious" stage.
January 13/15: Negotiations continue, with both sides expressing hope that a deal can be achieved.
January 16: Peter Robinson briefs party colleagues on progress of the talks.
January 17: Senior DUP, Ulster Unionist and Conservative politicians hold secret talks in England about establishing greater pro-union co-operation in Northern Ireland.
January 19: After days of upbeat noises from the DUP and Sinn Fein, first signs of trouble in the talks emerge. Despite rumours of tension round the negotiating table, DUP Environment Minister Edwin Poots denies there has been a "wobble".
January 22: Sinn Fein deputy president Mary Lou McDonald says the DUP is not yet ready to step up to the plate and meet its commitments. But Mr Robinson insists his party is prepared to work through outstanding issues and expresses disappointment at Sinn Fein's claim that the latest round of talks are over.
January 23: After a meeting of Sinn Fein's executive council - the Ard Chomhairle - Martin McGuinness demands a crisis summit with DUP leader Mr Robinson.
January 25: Mr McGuinness and Mr Robinson's meeting at Stormont lasts less than an hour, breaking up without progress.
After holding talks at Downing Street, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Irish premier Brian Cowen announce that they are flying to Northern Ireland to meet the leaders.
The two governments convene the talks summit at Hillsborough Castle insisting that progress can be made.
January 26: A round-table meeting involving all the parties is chaired by the two premiers. Despite this outward sign of progress, a final solution is apparently no closer, with the issues of contentious parades still proving problematic.
January 27: The final plenary session involving the parties and two premiers ends in acrimony, with Sinn Fein branding negotiations a dismal failure.
Mr Brown and Mr Cowen leave without a settlement but insist a pathway to agreement has been laid. They give the parties two days to find a resolution or else they will publish their own joint proposals for moving the process forward.
January 29: With the DUP and Sinn Fein still negotiating intensively at Hillsborough, the governments allow the deadline to slip amid hopes of progress. The marathon summit becomes the longest continuous round of talks in the history of the peace process.
January 30: After more than 100 hours of negotiations, both the DUP and Sinn Fein hint at a breakthrough. Both claim that significant progress has been made, prompting speculation that a deal could be close.
February 1: Peter Robinson is confronted with significant rebellion within his own party ranks when he presents a proposed agreement to his fellow assembly members. Fourteen DUP MLAs (40%) vote against the deal in a secret ballot with the party's assembly group.
February 3: Mr Robinson resumes his position as First Minister after claiming the first of a series of probes into his involvement in his wife's financial affairs has cleared him of wrong doing.
Secretary of State Shaun Woodward warns that a £800 million financial package offered by treasury for policing and justice in the region will be withdrawn if devolution does not happen.
February 4: Sinn Fein claim negotiations are over and the basis for a deal now exists.
After final talks with the British government, the DUP calls another meeting of its assembly group at Parliament Buildings at Stormont.
At ten minutes to midnight, Peter Robinson emerges from the two hour briefing to announce that his party colleagues had unanimously backed the agreement with Sinn Fein.
Text of the Hillsborough Castle Agreement
Section 1 - Policing and
1. This text is an affirmation of our shared belief in the importance of working together in a spirit of partnership to deliver success for the entire community.
2. We wish to see this agreement reflect our willingness to ensure the Executive and the Assembly reflect better this spirit of partnership, mutual respect and equality which remain vital for the success of devolution.
3. We recognise the importance of improving the efficiency of the Executive and greater inclusiveness. The outworking of this agreement will allow the uninterrupted functioning of the Assembly and Executive.
Section 1 - Policing and Justice
1. Following community consultation the First Minister and deputy First Minister will table jointly a resolution for a cross-community vote in the Assembly on 9 March. Following affirmation of the resolution they will support all necessary steps in the Assembly to ensure devolution of powers by the 12 April. The Government will set out publicly the Parliamentary schedule for the related transfer orders required to effect devolution. Policing and justice powers will be devolved on that day.
The Department of Justice - Model
2. The Assembly’s Department of Justice Bill, which completed its passage in December, establishes the new Department of Justice and sets out the arrangements for the appointment of the Justice Minister. It provides that there will be a single Justice Minister in charge of the Department of Justice which will be responsible for devolved policing and justice policy and legislation. The Justice Minister will be elected by a cross community vote in the Assembly following a nomination by any MLA.
Identification of Justice Minister
3. On Monday 8 February 2010 the First Minister and deputy First Minister will convene a meeting of party leaders to consider applications of interest for the post of Justice Minister. The purpose of this meeting will be to allow the First Minister and deputy First Minister to identify which candidate they believe is best able to command cross-community support in the Assembly.
Independence of Judiciary and Chief Constable
4. We believe that the independence of the judiciary is essential in a democratic society which supports the rule of law. It is of paramount importance that the judicial function remains independent of Government and immune from any partisan or political interest. Public confidence requires that judicial decisions are taken in a fair, impartial, objective and consistent manner. This confidence can only be maintained if judges are able to act with independence.
5. As part of the devolved policing arrangements the Chief Constable will be operationally responsible for directing and controlling the police. The PSNI will have operational responsibility for policing, and for implementing the policies and objectives set by the Department of Justice and the Policing Board.
Addendum to Programme for Government
6. There will be an addendum to the Programme for Government (PfG) for the Department of Justice which will be drafted by the Justice Minister and brought to the Assembly for approval. We believe that in bringing forward his/her proposals the Justice Minister should give consideration to the following:
7. The necessary actions to support the agreed policies could usefully include, inter alia:
Relationship between Justice Minister and Executive
8. The Justice Minister will have the same status in the Executive as other Ministers – the Justice Minister will have the same standing in terms of attending and voting at the Executive and as with other Ministers the operation of the Department would be subject to his/her direction and control. In this context as with other Ministers the Justice Minister would have responsibility for operational matters within the Department.
9. Having regard to the particular responsibilities of the Justice Minister we have agreed that quasi-judicial decisions shall be made by the Justice Minister without recourse to the Executive.
10. The Justice Minister will bring any proposals he/she believes necessary to the Executive detailing how the Ministerial Code or Procedural Guidance should be amended to ensure effective decision-making in relation to urgent, confidential or other matters in his/her Department which would normally require consideration by the Executive. Pending the implementation of any agreed amendments to the Ministerial code or procedural guidance, the Executive would normally grant retrospective approval to any decisions in which the Minister had acted reasonably. However, the First Minister and deputy First Minister, acting jointly may require any matter to be brought to the Executive for consideration or agree jointly that retrospective approval would not be granted. Notwithstanding the above all issues which cut across the responsibility of two or more ministers, legislative proposals and financial allocations to the Department of Justice would require Executive consideration. It is expected that any new arrangements would be in place by the summer recess.
Additional Financial Settlement – Letter from the Prime Minister dated 21 October
Dear Peter and Martin,
I promised to write to you setting out the elements of the financial settlement that you agreed to present to your respective parties. Our discussions on the finance have been careful, detailed and considered and I am grateful to you for the time you have given to them. Together we have, I believe, achieved an outcome in which we each have confidence and which will ensure that when policing and justice powers are transferred, the Northern Ireland Justice Department will have a secure financial foundation which we all recognise is important in ensuring confidence in the policing and justice services across the community. I believe the settlement which is outlined below is a good settlement which will meet the needs of a devolved Justice Department.
The key elements of the settlement are:
I believe that this is a very strong settlement which will ensure that all the people of Northern Ireland continue to have high quality policing and justice services.
Section 2 – Parades
1. The Parades Commission is tasked with regulating and adjudicating on parading. We are committed to a new and improved framework fashioned by all stakeholders and maximising cross community support.
2. The First Minister and deputy First Minister have agreed to set up a co-chaired working group comprising six members, appointed by them, with experience of dealing with parading issues which will bring forward agreed outcomes which they believe are capable of achieving cross community support for the new and improved framework. This work will begin immediately and will be completed within three weeks.
3. We recognise that support from all sides of the community has the potential to create a new improved framework for the management and regulation of public assemblies including parades and related protests. We believe that such a framework should reflect the key principles of:
4. The working group has been tasked to take forward work in the following areas, building on the interim report of the Strategic Review of Parading. This will inform the public consultation, as part of the schedule, as set out in the timetable below:
5. The working group by agreement may add to the above points.
6. The First Minister and deputy First Minister will promote and support the agreed outcomes of the working group.
7. We recognise that any improved regulatory framework must be capable of maximising cross community support.
8. Following the completion of the consultation process a Bill will be finalised.
9. The First Minister and deputy First Minister will support all necessary steps in the Assembly to ensure that the Bill completes all stages before the end of 2010. In parallel the First Minister and deputy First Minister will take the necessary steps to enable the reclassification of parades as a transferred matter.
10. Where there is a need, support will be provided to help local communities and those who parade to find local solutions to contentious parades and related protests. This will encourage local accommodation and will take account of lessons to be learnt from successful local models. It is envisaged that in the case of the most difficult situations, additional ongoing support will be provided to encourage resolution of contention.
11. We will promote and support direct dialogue with, and the involvement of, representatives of the Loyal Orders, band parade organisers, local residents’ groups and other stakeholders, as this work is advanced. We will also encourage the participation of local elected representatives in the process of resolution. This work will start as soon as possible.
12. The current adjudication mechanism of the Parades Commission will continue until the new improved arrangements are in place.
Parading - Timetable
Assumes maximum priority in Assembly at all stages.
FM/dFM appoint working group - 8 February
Working group begins work - 9 February
Working group completes work and reports on agreed outcomes to FM/dFM - By 23 February
Commencement of the drafting of Bill to implement working group agreed outcomes (working group to assist during drafting process to confirm Bill delivers agreed outcomes) - End w/c 22 Feb
Draft Bill completed - Late March
Assembly assumes responsibility for the parades legislation - Late March/early April
Draft Bill published for consultation - Late March/early April
Completion of consultation - w/c 8 June
Consideration of consultation responses and finalise Bill - w/c 15 June
Executive approves introduction of Bill in September - w/c 29 June
Assembly summer recess (assuming returns on 6 September)
Text of Bill submitted to Speaker and Speaker fulfils all formal requirements to legislate in the Assembly - w/c 6 September
Bill introduced (at least 7 working days after submission to Speaker) - w/c 13 September
Second stage - w/c 20 September
Committee Stage (30 working days under SO33 – can be shortened with accelerated passage) - w/c 27 September
Halloween Recess - 1 week
Consideration Stage - w/c 15 November
Further Consideration Stage - w/c 22 November
Final Stage - w/c 29 November
Bill submitted for Royal Assent - w/c 6 December
Royal Assent (if urgency procedure can be invoked under s.15(3) of 1998 Act) - w/c 13 December
Section 3 – Improving Executive Function and Delivery
1. Party papers have been exchanged during the Talks at Hillsborough Castle making suggestions on how the Executive might function better and how delivery might be improved.
2. The First Minister and deputy First Minister will seek approval from the Executive to set up a Working Group to consider all proposed arrangements and make recommendations.
3. The Working Group, which would comprise representatives from all parties on the Executive, should consider any proposals and make recommendations to the Executive for new and improved processes. Sir Reg Empey and Margaret Ritchie will be asked to co-chair this Working Group and to commence their work by the end of February.
Section 4 – Outstanding Executive Business
1. Junior Ministers will chair a Working Group involving all of the Parties in the Executive and oversee an exercise of trawling for and identifying all Executive papers and decisions which are still pending. They will be tasked to provide a report to the Executive detailing the level of progress made on each outstanding matter and Junior Ministers will make recommendations on whether and how progress could be made on any and all outstanding matters by the end of February. This will include a programme of work detailing how any remaining outstanding issues will be resolved.
5 – Outstanding Issues from St Andrews
2. The First Minister and deputy First Minister will seek approval from the Executive to set up a Working Group to make recommendations on how progress could be made on those matters which have not been actioned. Junior Ministers will be asked to chair this Working Group and make an initial report by the end of March.
3. Within four weeks of the Working Group’s initial report the First Minister and deputy First Minister will agree a programme to effect completion of the agreed conclusions of the Working Group.
passes justice devolution
The Stormont Assembly has voted in favour of the devolution of policing and justice powers from Westminster, despite opposition from the Ulster Unionists.
The vote underpins the Hillsborough Agreement brokered between the DUP and Sinn Féin to stabilise the power-sharing administration.
The Assembly decision followed an acrimonious debate in which the Ulster Unionists resisted pressure to support the move, which will now lead to the creation of a Department of Justice for the six counties after the powers are devolved by April 12.
Out of the 105 votes cast, a total of 88 were in support of the move, with only the Ulster Unionists voting against.
DUP leader and Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson attacked the Ulster Unionists’ decision to vote against the devolution plans.
He said the party was seeking political advantage and added: “I believe it is time for us all to move forward. There must be no going back to the bad old days of the past.
“Throughout history there are times of challenge and defining moments. This is such a time. This is such a moment.”
He added: “Leadership is not about what’s easiest, or what best suits our party interests, it is about doing what is right for our people.”
The Ulster Unionists claimed the Executive must sort out other outstanding matters - such as the longstanding row over post-primary school transfer arrangements - before it can take on law and order functions.
Its leader Reg Empey said: “I am immensely proud of the sacrifices my party has made for the cause of peace. Our determination to make Stormont work for all the people of northern Ireland - unionists, nationalists, all of us - continues.”
Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP accused the Ulster Unionists of not holding a “principled opposition” to the deal.
“I regret that a party that claims it is a liberal party, that it is a middle of the road party couldn’t see today that leadership is about taking steps forward, not hesitating,” he said.
“He who hesitates does not win.”
Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD welcomed the vote, saying it was “a good day for the peace process and a good day for Ireland”.
He said: “Despite the blatant electioneering of the Ulster Unionist party the vote on the transfer of policing and justice powers from Britain to the six counties has been comfortably passed.
“This transfer of powers is a long overdue part of the Good Friday Agreement which was signed almost twelve years ago. I welcome today’s vote which allows for the final transfer of powers to take place on 12th April. Today is a good day for the peace process and a good day for Ireland.
“The importance and significance of this should be lost on no-one, least of all the governments in Dublin and London who need to ensure that they play their part to the full in ensuring that the agreements continue to be fulfilled and that the Executive, Assembly and all-Ireland structures are fully supported.
“The Conservative party in Britain also needs to learn the lessons of its dalliance with the discredited Ulster Unionist party.”
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the completion of devolution sent a “powerful message to those who would return to violence”.
“The politics of progress have finally replaced the politics of division in northern Ireland”, he said.
“The courage and leadership of the parties who voted to complete devolution at Stormont will be noted around the world.”
He said the completion of devolution, supported by all sections of the community “is the final end to decades of strife”.
“It sends the most powerful message to those who would return to violence that democracy and tolerance will prevail,” he added.
half of PSNI were in RUC
More than half the current PSNI officers at work across the North once wore the uniform of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Andersonstown News has learned.
The PSNI was born in 2001, under reforms by the Independent Commission for Policing in Northern Ireland (ICPNI), and was part of the Good Friday Agreement’s proposals for changing the face of policing in the North, which had previously been seen by many nationalists and republicans as an “armed wing” of unionism.
However, through information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, it has been revealed that as of last December, 4,331 former RUC officers, including full and part time personnel, are now on the beat as members of the PSNI, the current strength of which stands at just over 8,000.
The details emerged as the redundancy scheme implemented by ICPNI Chairman Chris Patten to allow former RUC officers to step down and make room for new Catholic recruits draws to a close. The scheme has attracted criticism as it was revealed the final bill may come in at over half a billion pounds.
Stormont Justice Minister David Ford has defended the price tag, stating Mr Patten thought it was “necessary at the time to reform the police”. However, with the average lump sum payment for officers leaving “with dignity and reasonable payment” standing at £95,000, and some senior officers receiving as much as £500,000, some, including Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey have described the payments as “too much”.
Meanwhile, as the row rumbles on, the news that over half of serving PSNI officers were RUC personnel has received mixed reactions across West Belfast, as the Andersonstown News spoke to community representatives and those whose lives had been changed irrevocably by the actions of those serving in the RUC, which was widely feared and despised in the West of the city.
Opinions differ, from the view that the PSNI are no more than the “same old” RUC in different uniforms, to claims they are an organisation which is evolving and shaking off the past to become a “police service for all”.
A PSNI spokesman insisted the vast majority of people in the North had backed the organisation, and said individual officers were “dedicated” to the community as a whole,
“The PSNI is committed to delivering a personal, professional and protective policing service to the whole community,” he said.
“We know our work is having a positive effect on the community. In fact, the results of a recent survey by the NI Statistics and Research Agency’s Omnibus survey showed that 80 per cent of people now have confidence in the PSNI’s ability to deliver a day-to-day policing service for everyone in Northern Ireland. More and more people support us and want to see police on patrol in their area.
“Our officers are dedicated to working with the community to tackle and reduce serious harm and listen to local views about the issues that affect people’s everyday lives.
“Since its inception, the PSNI has worked hard to implement agreed changes to policing here as set out by the Patten report. We remain committed to ensuring our policing service fully reflects what Patten envisaged and are looking to the future and how we can best deliver a service within our communities.”
Policing changes ‘not finished’, says Attwood
In response to the news that over half of PSNI officers served in the RUC, a member of the West Belfast District Policing Partnership has said changes in the North’s policing are “not finished” but has insisted the PSNI is a “different organisation” to the RUC.
SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood highlighted the changes in the make-up of the North’s police officers from the aftermath of the Belfast Agreement, when the RUC was a majority Protestant organisation to today, when almost 30 per cent of PSNI officers hail from a Catholic background.
Mr Attwood also claimed the revelations over the number of former RUC men and women in the ranks was no reason to claim significant changes had not occurred. Meanwhile, he also referred to the controversy surrounding the severance scheme, suggesting it was a necessary step to get the Catholic/Protestant ratio to where it stands today – closer to the 50/50 force envisaged by Patten.
“Questions are rightly being asked about the Patten severance scheme,” he told the Andersonstown News.
“If there had not been a severance scheme, the community balances in the PSNI would not have changed so significantly. Close to 30 per cent of police officers in the PSNI are Catholics. This figure would have been much less if there had not been a severance scheme to change the composition in a short time.”
Asked if the PSNI?was not still heavily tainted by the RUC, Councillor Attwood added: “The PSNI is a different organisation from the RUC. Whatever the number of police officers who are in the PSNI and were in the RUC, it is different because of the Patten reforms and particularly so given that much of Patten was implemented in the period between 2002 and 2007, including by a Policing Board with representatives from the SDLP, DUP and UUP. The process of change is not finished, indeed it must be pushed on. But any hint that the PSNI is the RUC in different form is simply misleading, inaccurate and wrong.”
Accountability is key: Maskey
A Sinn Féin MLA who was at the forefront of the party’s decision to support policing in the North has said he “fully understands” ongoing resentment of the legacy of the RUC, but insisted real changes in the police service were there for all to see.
Alex Maskey, who sits on the Policing Board, told the Andersonstown News that policing here still had “a long way to go” before reaching a position acceptable to the whole community, but added progress could not be denied.
“I don’t think anyone can say that the organisation has not changed,” Mr Maskey said.
“I’m fully aware of our policing history, but things have moved on, there’s no denying that. However, there’s still a long way to go, but if half the PSNI were once in the RUC, then that of course means the other half were not – and that’s a big change.”
On relatives of victims angered by the news, he continued: “I fully respect those views, and would never insult anyone’s intelligence by saying they are wrong to think like that. However, I have also met victims of the RUC who have told me they support what we are doing in terms of engaging with policing. I and my party have also been given a solid mandate to do what we are doing in making changes to policing. Considerable change has been delivered, but we have not finished that work by any means.
“It’s about making policing accountable. Any police force in any country has the potential to have people who wish to abuse that power, so the job of making the PSNI accountable will go on just as the process anywhere else will continue,” he added.
For Jim, RUC old guard is a malign influence
A west Belfast man widowed by the RUC at the height of the Troubles has said the PSNI appear “no different” in his eyes to their predecessors.
Jim McCabe lost his beloved wife Nora in July 1981, when she was shot close to her home in Linden Street on the Falls Road. The shooting took place just hours after the death of IRA hunger striker Joe McDonnell, and 33-year-old Nora had been walking to her local shop when she was struck in the head by a plastic bullet fired from a nearby RUC Land Rover. Suffering severe brain injuries, she died the following day in hospital, leaving behind husband Jim and their three young children.
A witness described seeing the shot coming from a Land Rover at Linden Street, but in the aftermath of the incident, the RUC denied firing any plastic bullets in the location. However, a Canadian film crew caught the shot on video, and an inquest eventually found that the bullet had been fired without any “legitimate target” and that Nora was an “innocent party”.
Jim spoke to the Andersonstown News about his feelings then and now about local policing, and expressed his belief that the police’s “attitudes had not changed” towards nationalists in the North.
“Personally, I find the attitude of the PSNI just as provocative as the RUC,” he said.
“If over half of the PSNI were once the RUC, then I believe that new recruits could be influenced by those old guard RUC who are training them. In the old days, Catholics within the RUC were intimidated into leaving, and I wonder is there still a form of intimidation to this day?
“There are people in West Belfast who are constantly being harassed by the police, just as they were during the Troubles. I don’t really recognise the Patten changes, as I still see the RUC under a different name. These statistics just underline that for me.
“In regards to my own experience, there’s no doubt the RUC failed to assist me and my children in getting the truth about what happened to my wife. Their game plan seemed to be ‘justice delayed is justice denied’.”
On the half-billion being spent on police pay-offs, he continued: “My family received paltry sums of money when Nora was murdered, but there’s over £500 million to help former police leave the service? Then there’s the compensation RUC officers got for injuries and ‘traumatic events’. Was losing a wife and mother not traumatic for my family?
“There are former officers who were off work for years receiving pay, while the RUC’s victims struggled to survive. That to me is both disgusting and depressing.
“We are supposed to be in a new era of policing and justice, but I’m sorry – I just don’t see it.”
RUC ‘haven’t gone away you know’, says widow
According to the widow of another victim of RUC plastic bullets, the former police force “hasn’t gone away you know”.
Brenda Downes, whose husband Sean was killed after being shot during an anti-internment rally in 1984, said she would “never” trust the PSNI, and is convinced the mentality of the old RUC remains in today’s policing organisation.
Upon learning that over half of PSNI officers in 2011 were RUC officers pre-2001, Brenda told the Andersonstown News that she would not even use the policing name created by Patten, and felt her attitude was reflected significantly in the wider West Belfast community.
Sean was just 22 and a father-of-one when he was shot at close range during the rally outside Connolly House, and the incident was captured on video footage subsequently broadcast across the globe. An RUC reservist was eventually cleared of manslaughter, causing uproar among nationalists.
“I don’t even call the police the PSNI, as to me they will always be the RUC,” Brenda said.
“They haven’t changed, and I’m basing this opinion on what I have witnessed and heard from the community. I know of incidents where people are still being harassed simply because they are Catholics or nationalists. They even target children in the street.
“One case I heard the police stopped local kids playing hurling in the street, claiming they had a report that youths were ‘waving sticks aggressively’. It’s a sport and part of their heritage, but this still seems to annoy police, and that’s the spirit of the bad old RUC lingering.
“It also makes me sick to think of the huge pay-offs the RUC members got, especially when people complain about the cost of something like the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, which focused on innocents, not people involved in an organisation like the RUC.”
An enraged Brenda added: “This is a slap in the face for families like mine. The RUC should have been completely disbanded, not just given a name change and a shiny new uniform. The fact that so many RUC officers are still working is a disgrace.
“I think it’s fair to say that they haven’t gone away you know.”
Quarters of PSNI Staff were RUC Members
The recent revelations that more than three-quarters of “civilian staff” employed by the PSNI were in the force when it was called the RUC is clear proof of the unchanged and unaccountable nature of the militia.
It was also revealed that almost half of them are involved in “sensitive” roles such as the intelligence branch.
The PSNI has attempted to defend this position by claiming they need the “expertise and skills” of these human rights abusing RUC members. The expertise and skills that we recall being used by these people is collusion, murder, frame-ups, brutality and harassment.
Rúnaí ginearálta éirígí Breandán Mac Cionnaith said, “These revelations will come as no surprise to republicans who have been on the receiving end of brutality and abuse at the hands of these thugs. We have stated all along that this force remained nothing but the same force it always was, bar a few cosmetic changes, and this now proves that we were right. They are simply the same old wine in new bottles.
“They were unacceptable when they were called the RIC, they were unacceptable when they were called the RUC and they are unacceptable today under their current guise of the PSNI.
“A few years back some within our communities were trying to sell their “policing project” as a fresh new beginning with promises of accountability and manners being placed on them. They have failed miserably and this is evident everyday of the week with stop & searches, house raids and regular harassment taking place across the Six Counties and now it’s revealed that the same people who terrorised our communities for decades are working for the PSNI under a different uniform.
Breandán concluded, “éirígí activists have been to the fore in opposing and resisting the British police and as a result we have found ourselves in their sights time and time again. We will continue with our Different Name, Same Aim campaign with more vigour and determination than ever.”
Former RUC officer criticises
A former RUC officer rehired by the PSNI after retiring with a Patten redundancy package has criticised the recruitment process used.
The former officer said he was recruited as a driver for the police without an interview for a job that was not publicly advertised.
He left the RUC in 2001 after 32 years with a lump sum payment of £180,000 and receives a pension of £24,000.
The former officer said he was "effectively head-hunted" for the job.
He said he was contacted by a company who had been given his details by a recruitment agency four years after leaving the RUC and offered the civilian job. He turned it down three times before finally accepting it.
He said he "stuck it out" for three of four months before leaving.
"If they (the jobs) were advertised I didn't see any advert nor did I apply for that job - I was effectively head-hunted.
"They rang me and asked me to take the job. I did not make any overtures to them," the officer, who wanted to be referred to as Jim, said.
"They were about 30 others (former officers) started with me at the same time.
"I'm also aware of a former traffic sergeant who, as I understand it, finished on a Friday in a particular role and started on the following Monday in the civilian version of the same role."
Skills and experience
The PSNI has defended the practice, arguing that it needs the range of highly-specialised skills and experience possessed by the former officers it has rehired.
"They do absolutely fantastic work in some very challenging areas and their experience and expertise is of huge benefit to us," Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie told a meeting of the Policing Board last week.
However, Jim said the way the PSNI had gone about the process was wrong.
"I don't dispute that they need these officers, but there's employment legislation, it's been in place since 1976 and they have found a way, in my opinion, of subverting that legislation," he said.
"The PSNI are not directly recruiting these officers, it's done through a recruitment agency."
Jim said he he opposed the Patten reforms which led to the RUC being disbanded and hundreds of officers taking redundancy packages.
"Effectively I believe Patten was a sop to terrorism - stop bombing London and we'll disband the RUC.
"At the end of the day,I don't see that the PSNI was created for anything other than political reasons."
However, on the recruitment of former officers he added: "I don't see why if these jobs are required why the PSNI cannot do it themselves.
"They should certainly be ending the old boy aspect of it, but if it's a fair competition for the jobs and they need the workers then why not."
Sinn Féin say
Chief Constable must address head-hunting of former RUC members into
Sinn Féin policing spokesperson, Gerry Kelly, has said that the BBC interview with a former RUC member who revealed how he was recruited with a lack of transparency and could not be held accountable under the mechanism in place for the PSNI vindicated clearly the position of Sinn Féin that this process has been ongoing within the PSNI for a number of years.
Mr Kelly has called on PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott to work with the Policing Board to address this serious issue.
Speaking yesterday Mr Kelly said: “The interview with the former RUC member has vindicated what Sinn Féin have stated now for a number of years.
“The PSNI have by-passed Patten in the recruitment of former members of the RUC who were in receipt of the generous Patten redundancy package and, in doing so, have actively undermined the Patten recommendations.
“The testimony of this former RUC member indicates that this is clearly not an isolated case.
“We have seen members of the RUC leave with huge payouts and, in some cases, be back working for the PSNI within weeks - outside of the accountability mechanisms.
“They aren’t answerable to the Policing Board, the Ombudsman and do not have to take an oath or abide by the PSNI code of ethics.
“Beyond this, the way in which ex-RUC members have been headhunted and recruited with no transparency raises further questions. It smacks of an old boys club approach by the PSNI.
“The PSNI have consistently stated that they did not have accurate figures on the number of ex RUC members who had been re-hired in this way. These figures are now public.
“It is high time, with this issue finally reaching the headlines, that the Chief Constable and senior levels within the PSNI work with the Policing Board to ensure and end to this practice and the end to the active undermining of the Patten recommendations.”
You Don’t See:
It is five years on from the formal 2007 transfer of primacy for ‘national security’ to the Security Service (MI5) following the 2006 St Andrew’s Agreement.
In human rights terms covert policing, and in particular the running of paramilitary informants, has been among the most controversial and sensitive areas of policing and one of the areas most at risk for human rights violations.
This major new research report by CAJ examines the impact of the transfer of ‘national security’ primacy to MI5. The report:
Finally the report benchmarks the present situation with MI5 against the human rights framework and reflects on the current policing accountability gap that has emerged as a result of the transfer. The report concludes that despite many of the most serious human rights concerns of the past resting with covert policing the transfer to MI5 has ensured that policy on ‘national security’ covert policing remains largely secret, under the direct political control of Ministers, and subject to very limited oversight. This report can also be downloaded here.
row over 'FBI-style' body hides scandal of MI5
By Eamonn McCann
That chortling sound you hear in the background as nationalist parties joust with Justice Minister David Ford over plans for an 'FBI-style' body to combat organised crime is MI5 officers in their Loughside HQ celebrating the fact that they are still getting away with it.
Amid the debate about how, if possible, to make the proposed National Crime Agency accountable to the public through their elected representatives, there's been but passing reference to the huge and expanding role of the least accountable body involved in policing.
The Army's Force Research Unit (FRU) and RUC Special Branch have rightly been given a drubbing for their involvement with the UDA in procuring the murder of Pat Finucane and others, which is not to say that the whole truth of these matters has been told, or justice done.
But it seems largely forgotten that MI5, too, was up to its oxters in the same collusion.
In the Panorama programmes in 2002 which exposed the extent of collusion in the Finucane murder, John Ware reported that: "Almost everything we've disclosed about Army and police complicity with loyalist murder-gangs was known to MI5 at the time... MI5 had direct access to all the Army's damning secret files on a daily basis."
Indeed, MI5 and FRU officers shared desks at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn throughout the late-1980s heyday of joint operations between loyalist paramilitaries and state bodies.
And yet, in his Commons speech in December apologising for the murder of the Belfast solicitor, David Cameron made only glancing mention of MI5. Indeed, the phrase 'MI5' wasn't uttered. Nor even 'the Security Service'. The agency was instead included in the imprecise category of 'security services'.
Summing up his apology and pledge of a new beginning, Cameron told MPs that: "The Force Research Unit and the Special Branch of the RUC have both gone. And the PSNI is today one of the most scrutinised police forces in the world. It is accountable to local ministers and a local Policing Board."
But no mention of the fact that far from being "gone", the third agency involved in collusion and killing had, in the interim, been given 'primacy' over all policing matters touching on national security.
As for the PSNI being "one of the most scrutinised police forces in the world... accountable to local ministers and a local Policing Board", this reflects either sheer cynicism or, just possibly, culpable ignorance.
Since MI5's lead role was formalised in 2007, following policing agreement at St Andrews, the PSNI - including the chief constable - is forbidden from discussing with the Policing Board, or the Minister for Justice, any aspect of policing involving national security without the permission of the NIO or MI5 itself.
And MI5 will decide what constitutes 'national security'.
A memorandum of understanding unearthed by the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) tells that: "When considering whether disclosure of information could create a risk of damage to national security, if the chief constable is in any doubt as to whether he is in an appropriate position to make the required judgment, he will consult the secretary of state." Moreover: "The Policing Board has locus only in relation to the PSNI; and the chief constable will not disclose information from, or relating to, the Security Service [MI5] without its authority."
In practical terms, MI5 can gag the PSNI any time it chooses. The spy agency's own website cheerfully announces that: "It has been the policy of successive governments and the practice of parliament not to define the term [national security] in order to retain the flexibility necessary to ensure that the use of the term can adapt to changing circumstances."
Looked at in a certain light, this is so neat, it's beautiful. The restriction on the chief constable's right to report to the justice minister, or the Policing Board, applies not just to activities involving MI5, but to "any aspect of the PSNI's work (past, present or future) with a national security element" - with MI5, again, deciding which PSNI activities fall into this category.
And since MI5's interventions will themselves be kept secret (so as not to compromise national security), there is no way any member of the Policing Board, or official of the Justice Department, can know for certain whether information brought forward by the chief constable, or corporately by the PSNI, is the truth, the whole truth, or anything but the truth.
When it comes to issues that matter to the state, policing accountability is a sham and the heated exchanges over David Ford's proposal of a policing role here for the National Crime Agency is the political equivalent of the Sham Fight.
had a chance
Guest writer Gerard Hodgins with his take on Sinn Fein's failure to combat political policing in the North
Having endorsed the British Constabulary in Ireland in 2007, two years later Sinn Fein went on record to denounce physical-force republicans as “traitors to Ireland”. In between those two dates Martin Mc Guinness went on record to offer his condolences on the death of former RUC Chief Constable Jack Hermon who oversaw shoot-to-kill policies against republicans, torture of republicans in interrogation centres and instigated the disgusting and disturbing attacks upon funerals of dead republicans in the early 1980s. Thank-you Mr. Eastwood!!
With the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2010 we were assured that the nationalist nightmare was over and that accountability mechanisms would ensure community control over policing with no more political policing focussed vindictively on any community.
It didn’t happen though. Sinn Fein’s trajectory from cutting-edge national liberation and social justice to acquiescing in the one-sided policing of our past was successfully sold to enough of the republican base for them to maintain the fiction for long enough that “everything is alright, the Big Lad knows what he’s doing”, until such a time when a critical mass would build up in votes rendering the republican base not only unnecessary but a bit of an embarrassment to the aspirations of career politicians in the neo-conservative world order.
Republican and Loyalist veterans will be hauled before the courts occasionally to maintain the false perception that British Law is the fairest, most equitable law in the world: due process, fair trial, the right to remain silent, consult with a solicitor, full disclosure of the evidence against you, evenly balanced and applied etc. etc. etc.
It is a one sided approach in that the working class foot-soldiers of Loyalism and Republicanism will forever live under a Sword of Damocles not knowing when a knock will come to the door from 30, 40, 50... years back. No knock-on-the-door will have anything to do with justice though; the knocks will come in accordance with the political expediency of the day and maintaining the fiction of the impartiality and fairness of British Law.
The state, along with their agents within Republicanism and Loyalism will not live under this mortal threat. The killers of Pat Finucane will not come under the scrutiny of British law. Nor will the assassination squads who stalked our streets in the 1970s, the British Army unit The MRF; nor any of their descendents in the FRU who ran the UDA’s targeting of civilians – despite having full access to British Army and RUC intelligence files on IRA and INLA soldiers the UDA failed miserably to make any impact with their targeting preferring instead to phone an innocent taxi driver from a depot known to employ Catholics and then shoot the poor man dead and claim he was in the IRA.
Closed Material Procedures now in operation in the court system facilitates imprisonment and victimisation of people the state holds a grudge against, peopled perceived to be a threat to the state and the occasional scapegoat to appease political expediency – assessment of threat and grudge will rest with HM Security Services who have a record of not getting it right.
The days of a fair trial with full disclosure of allegations and evidence against you with the right to rebuttal are dead and gone. Secret allegations and secret “evidence” can be, and presently is being presented to closed courts by police/security officers from which the accused and his/her legal representatives are forbidden: Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” has come true. It is possible to be imprisoned and cast into a limbo-existence on undisclosed and legally forbidden to be disclosed “evidence”.
Being processed through the justice system today is more nightmarish than at any time over the past fifty years. All legal safeguards are gone at the stroke of a pen and the most worrying thing is that practically nobody knows; the erosion of civil liberties is a silent, creeping cancer kept from our vision by distractions of manufactured news and entertainment in a world driven by celebrity, spin and image.
Internal exile, an old favourite of the Soviet Union in Cold War days and much criticised by the British as a gross violation of human rights now operates as a facet of the British Justice system in Ireland. Martin Corey despite being freed from Maghaberry Prison is not allowed to return home to his family and friends, if he returns to live in, or even visit Lurgan he will be returned to prison. If he or his solicitor speaks with the media or anybody else about the terms of his release and internal exile he will be returned to prison.
Similar stringent bail conditions exist and are in operation now which exile people from their own home towns, from returning to their families while they await trial, prohibit them from travelling in cars except for taxis along with a plethora of other repressive measures designed to socially isolate and demoralise the individual and prohibit all contact with friends, family and comrades.
The arrest and malicious charging of Ivor Bell is but the latest travesty of justice. Ivor Bell is a sacrificial offering on the altar of political expediency and peace process politics; the British know Ivor Bell well and know he had no part to play in the abduction and disappearance of Jean McConville. They also know he was court-martialed by a man who was never in the IRA and sentenced to death in 1985, sentence suspended so long as he doesn’t speak about it and the reasons for it to anybody.
Peace process politics are the politics of illusion; nothing changes in real terms, only the faces of the architects of our oppression. Poverty levels and social injustices increase while opportunities for progress decrease. Health, housing and education conditions are being savaged. Wages and salaries are frozen for the men and women of little or no property while wages/salaries for politicians and councillors rise extraordinarily!
The Holy-Grail of Policing and Justice was achieved by Sinn Fein but all it has done is tighten the control of the police-state over all our lives, histories and futures. The Policing Board – that great accountability mechanism for us the people – is a white elephant! The Policing Board can talk till the cows come home about burglaries, robberies, car crime, and any other issue relevant but it is absolutely forbidden by law from engaging in any talk about political policing. Discussion of any sort relating to counterinsurgency and the threat or otherwise from dissident republican groupings is prohibited. Given that the main area of contention in policing tends to be its approach to Irish separatists then the Policing Board is as useful a tit to a bull. The devolution of Policing and Justice to the Northern Ireland Assembly has not been a liberating experience it has been a tightening of the British noose around our Irish necks.
The hypocrisy of the British in this entire charade is exposed in their one-sided, vengeful pursuance of geriatric republican and loyalist foot-soldiers while psychopathic paratroopers and their ilk still go unquestioned, uncharged and their daily lives totally uninterrupted with visits to interrogation centres and prisons. The political elite of British society who oversaw the Dirty War and gave the orders for executions will never have the inconvenience of having to answer any questions about their roles in the deaths of Irish citizens. Such is the peace our world-class negotiators negotiated us into. We never had a chance.