Bloody Sunday: the ‘defining story’ of the British army in Ireland

Families celebrate as the Saville Report is published at Derry's Guildhall

Families celebrate as the Saville Report is published at Derry’s Guildhall

Published in the West Belfast News in June 2010

The publication of the Saville Report, the inquiry into the British army massacre of 14 civil rights protestors in Derry in 1972, confirmed what the victims’ families had always known — that those shot had been unarmed and posed no threat to the British Parachute Regiment.

The victims’ families welcomed the report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, handed down on June 15. The inquiry was chaired by British law lord Mark Saville and launched in 1998. They were joined by thousands of supporters in a march to Derry’s Guildhall — symbolically completing the march route begun by thousands of civil rights activists on January 30, 1972.

The official British line for the past 38 years, repeated by the media and “confirmed” by the inquiry chaired by John Widgery in 1972, was that those shot down — half of them teenagers — had been armed with guns and nail-bombs, and had opened fire on the paratroopers.

The Widgery cover-up said that the paratroopers’ behaviour had “bordered on the reckless”.

In contrast, Saville said there was no justification for opening fire and that all the soldiers who testified, bar one, had lied to the inquiry.

Saville referred to one person who was shot while “crawling away from the soldiers”; another shot “when he was lying mortally wounded on the ground”.

Bloody Sunday was a defining moment in the recent history of Ireland. The civil rights movement that had emerged in 1968 in the sectarian northern Irish statelet and demanded equal rights for the Irish nationalist and Catholic minority communities was literally shot off the streets.

The British military had been deployed in 1969 to support the discredited Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) after the explosion of the civil rights movement and the sectarian pogroms against Catholics that followed.

The British government claimed that its forces were being deployed to “keep the peace” between two warring communities — the mainly Catholic nationalists, supporters of Irish unity, and the mainly Protestant unionists, supporters of British colonial rule. But in reality, troops were sent in to prop up the crumbling statelet and maintain its union with Britain, something that quickly became clear to the nationalist community.

Civil rights activists in Derry on January 30, 1972 were protesting against the army’s introduction of internment without trial in August 1971. By the time of the Bloody Sunday march, more than 2000 people, almost all of them nationalists or republicans, were interned without trial in prison camps. Following the massacre, the British government introduced direct rule from London.

Bloody Sunday is largely regarded as the decisive factor that convinced a generation of young people that the only means to resist the oppressive Unionist state was to fight an armed struggle against the British army and RUC.

The tenacity and determination of the Bloody Sunday victims’ families was applauded as “inspirational” by speakers in Derry as the report, that was supposed to be published in 2006, was finally released. Thousands of supporters from across Ireland and around the world have joined the families each year to march in Derry on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, demanding justice for those killed.

Palestinian flags flew among the crowd outside the Guildhall in Derry. Tony Doherty, who was nine years old when his father was shot dead, said the victory of the Bloody Sunday families should be shared by those who had died struggling for justice everywhere: “Sharpeville. Grozny. Tiananmen Square. Darfur. Fallujah. Gaza. Let our truth stand as their truth too.”

Unionist politicians and British military spokespeople have reacted angrily to calls for the prosecution of the individual soldiers responsible for the Bloody Sunday killings.

But prosecuting the soldiers would not deal with the fundamental issue — that the killings were part of official state policy.

In response to fresh calls by British military officials for the prosecution of Irish Republican Army members and leaders for historic actions, Junior Minister in the Stormont Executive and former IRA prisoner Gerry Kelly pointed out that the British state has until now acted with total impunity.

“The difference is that 15,000 IRA prisoners served more than 100,000 years in jail,” he said.

Speaking from Westminster following the report’s publication, British Tory prime minister David Cameron said the shootings were “indefensible”. His apology on behalf of the British government was welcomed in Derry.

However, he then went on to say: “Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the service the British Army gave in Northern Ireland from 1969-2007.”

West Belfast MP and president of Irish republican party Sinn Fein Gerry Adams rejected this claim, saying: “The British Army’s actions at that time were part of a deliberate tactical decision designed to intimidate the wider nationalist community by killing citizens.”

One British soldier present on Bloody Sunday, identified as Soldier 027, who has been in a witness protection program for the past decade, testified to the Saville inquiry that his unit was encouraged to “get some kills”.

The significance of the Saville Report is that it challenges the official view of the role of the British military in Ireland and elsewhere. It exposes its real role as a colonial force willing to use brutal force to enforce its will. It adds weight to the campaigns for justice by other victims of British state killings, and to calls for a withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the 36 hours after the introduction of internment in August 1971, 11 people — 10 men, including a mother of eight children and a local priest — were shot dead in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, by the same British Parachute Regiment later to be unleashed in Derry.

British military forces in Ireland and the RUC killed at least 363 people since 1969, most of them civilians. Loyalist death squads killed more than 1000 people — mostly Catholic civilians — often acting with the sanction or aid of British military intelligence and RUC’s Special Branch.

From the open military repression and martial law tactics of the early 1970s to the running of loyalist murder gangs throughout the following decades, the British government’s actions had the same aim throughout the conflict: to terrorise and demoralise the nationalist population and crush their aspirations for democratic rights and a united, independent Ireland.

Speaking at a press conference in west Belfast on June 17 with the Ballymurphy massacre families, Adams said: “All of these families deserve the full support and encouragement of the community, and of the Irish government, in their efforts to secure an independent, international investigation into these deaths.”

PSNI must suspend use of stop and search powers

PSNI

Published in An Phoblacht on 10 February 2010

THE PSNI is under mounting pressure to suspend its use of stop and search powers granted under Section 44 of the British government’s Terrorism Act 2000. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on 12 January that the power to stop and search people arbitrarily  – without any grounds for suspicion – was a violation of the human right “to respect for private life”.

The British government has refused to repeal or suspend the legislation and has said it plans to appeal against the ruling.

Sinn Féin MLA and member of the Policing Board Daithí McKay said the most recent figures available from the PSNI on the powers backed up the ECHR’s ruling’s finding that the so-called anti-terror legislation was being abused by police, and used in an arbitrary and discriminatory way.

Targeting nationalists

While in Britain the powers have been used disproportionately against black and Asian people – who are four times more likely to be stopped under S44 – McKay said the nationalist population in the Six Counties was overwhelmingly bearing the brunt of this violation of civil rights.

“Sinn Féin has campaigned against this abuse of power by the police since the introduction of this draconian legislation by the British government. We believe that, in light of the European Court of Human Rights ruling that the Section 44 powers are illegal, the PSNI must now suspend its use of these powers,” McKay said.

The latest quarterly figures publicly available, from July to September last year, on the PSNI’s use of S44 stop and search powers show three key findings:

•There was a dramatic jump in their usage, with figures more than doubling from the previous quarter. From July to September last year, 10,265 people were stopped and searched under S44 in the Six Counties.

•Stop and search powers continue to be invoked a vastly disproportionate number of times in nationalist areas. The constituency with the highest number of people stopped and searched during the July-September quarter was Foyle, with 2,203. While S44 stop and search powers were used 1,305 times in Strabane during the quarter, they were used only once in Larne, a town of around equal population.

•The use of stop and search continues to be demonstrably ineffective by the PSNI’s own criteria. Of the more than 10,000 people stopped and searched during the quarter, only 39 were subsequently arrested.

Abuse of power

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act allows areas to be “designated” for the use of stop and search without suspicion by a police constable. The designation is made by an assistant chief constable and subsequently endorsed by the Secretary of State – and it can be made without going through any judicial or parliamentary process.

Under the legislation, the designation lasts 28 days, but can be renewed on a rolling basis. Civil rights groups in England responded with outrage last year when it emerged that the whole of Greater London had secretly been an authorised stop and search area since 2001.

The powers allow police to stop an individual or a vehicle within a designated area and search the person, anything they are carrying, and their vehicle. The legislation means that police officers no longer have to have “reasonable grounds of suspicion” to do so.

In 2008/09 police forces in the North, and in England and Wales, stopped and searched around 250,000 people under S44. In 2008, the London Metropolitan police stopped and searched more than 2,000 children under 15 years old  – including 58 under the age of nine.

In July last year the London Metropolitan Police force announced it was refining and limiting its use of S44 powers following a review. The police force in Hampshire, England, said it was suspending its use of the powers the same month, citing the fact that no arrests were made despite more than 3,000 searches being carried out.

‘Illegal’

The European Court of Human Rights case was brought against the British government by two people who were stopped, interrogated and searched under the legislation in London in 2003 as they made their way to an anti-war demonstration against an arms fair. English civil rights group Liberty strongly supported the case.

The landmark ruling by the Strasbourg court on 12 January (Gillan and Quinton V the United Kingdom) found that:

•The power to search a person’s clothing and belongings in public could cause humiliation and embarrassment and was a violation of Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights which guarantees the right to respect for private life.

•The fact that the decision to stop and search somebody was “based exclusively on the ‘hunch’ or ‘professional intuition’ of the police officer” meant there was a “clear risk of arbitrariness in granting such broad discretion” to a police officer.

•The judges were concerned by the way the powers are authorised. There is no requirement that the powers be considered “necessary” –  only “expedient”.

•The absence of any obligation on police officer to show a reasonable suspicion “made it almost impossible to prove that the power had been improperly exercised”.

The court found that the use of stop and search, and the way the powers are authorised, are “not sufficiently circumscribed nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse”.

“They are not, therefore, in accordance with the law.”

Challenge

McKay said that the problems in the use of such police powers were compounded in the Six Counties, with a long history of such powers being abused for political repression against republicans and nationalists.

“Many of those who have been stopped and harassed by the PSNI were stopped because of their political opinion or background. This abuse of power amounts to political policing and damages the credibility of police forces that use them as well as community relations,” he said.

“People in the North want a police service that will deal robustly with serious issues affecting their daily lives such as drugs and criminality in our communities. They want to see effective, civic and accountable policing, and the use of Section 44 powers by the PSNI seriously undermines this.”

McKay said that Sinn Féin was calling on the PSNI to suspend its use of S44 powers and was challenging the PSNI on the issue on the Policing Board and in the District Policing Partnerships.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing and Justice and Policing Board member Alex Maskey has written to the British government and the PSNI chief constable asking for their response to the ECHR ruling.

Fellow Policing Board member and Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson will be part of the Policing Board’s Human Rights and Professional Standards Committee’s review of stop and search powers which was announced following the ruling.

“The PSNI should now suspend its use of Section 44 in light of these facts and the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that it is incompatible with Convention rights. The continued use of this legislation is a flagrant abuse of human rights,” McKay said.

Collusion and cover-up in Loughinisland massacre

The scene after six Catholic men were killed by a UVF death squad as they watched Ireland play Italy in the World Cup in 1994

The scene after six Catholic men were killed by a UVF death squad as they watched Ireland play Italy in the World Cup in 1994

Published in An Phoblacht on 17 September 2009 

A Police Ombudsman report is expected to confirm state collusion and cover-up in the  Loughinisland massacre, in which six Catholic men were killed by a UVF death squad as they watched Ireland play Italy in the World Cup on 18 June, 1994, in the Heights bar in the small Co Down village.

It is expected that in addition to confirming “major failings” by the police to properly investigate the Loughinisland attack, the report will reveal that four RUC Special Branch agents were aware that the UVF was planning the massacre.

Eamon Byrne (39), Barney Green (87), Malcolm Jenkinson (53), Daniel McCreanor (59), Patrick O Hare (35) and Adrian Rogan (34) suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the back as they sat watching the game after two masked men stormed into the pub and fired up to 30 bullets from an AK-47 and a Czech-made rifle into the patrons. No-one has ever been convicted of the brutal sectarian rampage, which devastated the quiet village of Loughinisland and left nine children without a father.

The report is the outcome of an Ombudsman review into failings by the RUC/PSNI to properly investigate the massacre, launched after the victims’ families filed a complaint in 2006 following revelations by investigative media reports that the getaway car was supplied by an RUC agent. Originally scheduled to be published last summer, the report was delayed and was due to be released on Tuesday 15 September – but the Ombudsman has now delayed its release for a second time, “for several weeks”, claiming new information must be assessed.

The delay has caused more frustration for the families in that “new evidence” coming to light only days before the scheduled release of the report indicates either a failure of the Ombudsman’s investigation or else simple stalling on the release of what will inevitably be damaging information.

‘Major failings’

The families’ 21 March 2006 complaint to the Ombudsman included the allegations that:

•The investigation into the murders has not been efficiently or properly carried out;

•No earnest effort was made to identify the persons that carried out this atrocity; and

•There persists a suspicion of state collusion in the murders.

Specifically the families demanded to know if any of the suspects were working for Special Branch and why the car used by the killers to get away was subsequently destroyed by police.

Other concerns were the fact that a viable hair follicle was recovered but nobody has been charged, and the fact that investigators reported at least one of the weapons used was imported from South Africa by British intelligence’s Force Research Unit agent Brian Nelson.

A draft public statement on the investigation by the Police Ombudsman from 21 July, supplied to An Phoblacht, states the complaint that the investigation by the RUC/PSNI has not been properly carried out will be upheld.

“Major failings have been identified. There was a failure to speak to persons of interest. There was a loss of policy logs,” the draft statement says. It says the allegation that no earnest attempt was made to apprehend those responsible will be partly upheld due to the “unavailability” of police logs and interview notes. Some suspects were swabbed for DNA samples while others were not.

The draft statement also confirmed that there was no contact recorded between the RUC/PSNI and the victims’ families between 1994 and 2005 and that there was a consistent failure to update the families on developments.

Special Branch agents

Police sources revealed to the media last weekend that the investigation’s report will reveal the role of four Special Branch agents within the UVF in ordering or organising the attack. The report will mention but not name the agents; however, it has already been established that Mark Haddock and Terry Fairfield were two of the agents involved.

The RUC knew that Fairfield, an agent handled by Detectives Johnston Brown and Trevor McIllrath, provided the getaway car, a red Triumph Acclaim, used in the attack but he was not arrested and continued to work for Special Branch following the massacre.

Car destroyed

The most glaring evidence of a cover-up is the destruction of the getaway car by the police in 1996 – supposedly because of “overcrowding”. The RUC claimed it carried out forensic tests on the car in 1994 and found no useful evidence. In their complaint, the families said: “The car may have retained the prospect of evidential product in the context of developing science. It is wholly unsatisfactory and unreasonable that this crucial exhibit was wilfully destroyed by the police.”

The Ombudsman’s draft public statement acknowledged the destruction of the car “was a breach of police procedure at that time” and “it should not have been destroyed”.

Kevin Winters Solicitors, representing the families, wrote to the Ombudsman in October 2007 that the families had been advised by Detective Williamson on 11 October 2005 that “all aspects of the trail” relating to the car had been followed up in 1994 and he was “satisfied” with it.

The families’ solicitors said: “It is unacceptable that the PSNI, 11 years on in October 2005, attempted to gloss over the history and facts of this car as being a line of enquiry which was satisfactorily pursued, without recourse or mention to the involvement of one of their agents.”

Weapons’ history

At a meeting between families and the PSNI on 11 October 2005, DI Wilson said that the rifle used in the attack “was a Czech-made weapon that was one of the weapons that came to [the North] from South Africa in the late 1980s” – in the weapons consignment effected by FRU agent Nelson. DSI Williamson said at the same meeting that three murders and two attempted murders, all attributed to the UVF, had been carried out using the same weapon.

The Ombudsman’s draft statement says: “In 2006 a forensic review [of the weapons] was taken by [the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team] and PSNI Serious Crime Branch. It has not progressed and is a substantial failing by police.”

The families want to know which specific murders these weapons can be traced to; whether or not there was evidence of state collusion in these murders (including any evidence they came from the Nelson consignment); and whether or not there has been any prosecutions for the other attacks.

Failings and contradictions

While the Ombudsman’s report has yet to be released and the Loughinisland families reserve their assessment of its findings until it has been published, the draft statement shows several failings in the approach of the Ombudsman’s investigation and contradictions between its findings and its conclusions.

It claims in the provisional statement that the allegation of state collusion has not been substantiated; that there was “no preventability” – but clearly if at least four Special Branch agents knew of the massacre plans, and were directly involved, the RUC would have had prior warning the attack was going to happen if not a direct hand in it.

The fact that the report confirms a cover-up to protect agents, including the deliberate destruction of evidence, itself confirms collusion in the massacre.

The draft statement says there is no evidence linking Nelson or the South African consignment to the weapons used in Loughinisland, contradicting the previous statements made by investigating officers – and then goes on to say that the failure to establish the ballistic history is a “substantial failing” by the police.

The Ombudsman’s office failed to arrest and question the handlers of the agents involved, or the officers responsible for the destruction of evidence and says there is “no evidence of crimiality” on the part of police.

However, whether there is the basis to prosecute those responsible for the collusion and cover-up will be one of the issues that can be judged by the victims’ families on the publication of the Ombudsman’s final report.

Legal figures add weight to Finucane inquiry call

Pat Finucane mural

Published in An Phoblacht on 19 February 2009

THE British Government has signalled it may avoid holding even a controlled inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, an international conference in honour of the Belfast solicitor at Dublin’s Trinity College was told on Saturday.

The conference paid tribute to the life, work and legacy of Pat Finucane on the 20th anniversary of his murder. Delegates heard from an impressive international panel of leading human rights activists and legal figures including Pat’s wife, Geraldine Finucane; Canadian former Supreme Court judge Peter Cory; leading British human rights laywer Michael Mansfield QC; and the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy.

Addressing the conference, Belfast solicitor Peter Madden, who shared a legal practice with Pat, read from a letter the Finucane family had received from the British Government on the anniversary of Pat’s death.

British Secretary of State to the North Shaun Woodward’s Principal Under-Secretary, Simon Marsh, wrote that the Government was considering the report of the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group on the Past and that “no decision has yet been taken by Government in relation to any of the group’s recommendations, including their recommendations in relation to any Finucane inquiry”.

The letter went on to say: “All these matters, like the outcome of discussions with the Finucane family, or their legal representatives about the form of any inquiry, will, of course, be relevant factors for ministers in deciding whether it remains in the public interest to proceed with an inquiry.” Speaking after the conference, Pat’s son, John Finucane, said that the British Government “appears to be preparing to break promises that they made, not only to ourselves but also to the Irish Government and others”. He added: “The question needs to be asked: just in whose interest would it be not to have a public inquiry into my father’s murder?”

Geraldine Finucane said the family firmly rejects the idea that the past could be swept under the carpet.

“Recent efforts to find mechanisms to address the past underline how important it is that we build our future on solid foundations. The society that forgets its past, or worse, tries to pretend it never existed, is doomed to repeat it.”

Jane Winter from British Irish Rights Watch also voiced her concerns.

“In my opinion, the Eames/Bradley report puts too little emphasis on transparency, too little focus on the truth and too much emphasis on putting the past in the past.”

Madden said that while there while the aspirations towards reconciliation in the Eames/Bradley report are positive, “the way to achieve reconciliation is not through burying the truth”.

Michael Mansfield said he is appalled at the suggestion that holding an open inquiry into Pat’s death would not be in the public interest. “The only ones who should decide what’s in the public interest are the public,” he said.

“The British Government sending this letter on Pat’s anniversary is no coincidence. Well, we will send the British Government a clear message back from this conference: we will not settle for anything less than the full truth because Pat was just the tip of an iceberg of a British policy of systemic collusion – and some of the operative that would be revealed are still operative.

“It’s not just because Pat’s family deserves to know the extent of collusion – as do so many other families – but because there will be no genuine, lasting peace in Ireland until there is justice. And justice must be built upon the full disclosure of the truth.”

Mansfield outlined the drive by the British Government to keep inquests out of the public eye.

The Inquiries Act 2005, which allows the home secretary to issue ‘restriction orders’ on an inquest enabling the withholding of evidence from the coroner, is the “only possible” means for investigating the Finucane case, the British Government insists. It is a transparent attempt to conceal the role of Government security agencies and the political establishment’s role in “controversial” killings.

“Now the new Coroners’ Bill, going before the parliament this year would, if passed, allow for the Secretary of State to decide that inquests should be held in secret if it is in ‘the national interest’,” the QC explained.

“The bill is attempting to resurrect the legislation that was defeated last year in the House of Lords contained in the ‘anti-terror’ 42-day detention proposals. The result would be that, in certain cases, there may possibly be no inquest, or if there is one it will be controlled. There would be no jury, the coroner will be appointed by the Government, the whole thing could be held in camera, with no publication of the findings.”

As she was opening the conference, Geraldine Finucane said: “Pat may have been taken from us far too soon but what he achieved in his short life, professionally and personally, cannot be measured through a mere sum of years.”

Belfast High Court judge Séamus Treacy spoke about the advances in human rights law that Pat’s work, together with Peter Madden, achieved in 10 years of practice.

“In bringing about change in a rotten system, Pat advanced fair trial rights and the right of prisoners to legal recourse against prison governors and the right of access to solicitors.”

Judge Peter Cory paid tribute to the Finucane family: “Geraldine has become an international symbol of courage and dedication to the cause of her husband.”

Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Param Cumaraswamy said: “Along with everyone else in this room, I deeply admire the courage and determination of the Finucane family.

“I was given an assurance by Tony Blair in April 2001 that there would be an independent inquiry into Pat’s murder – which, eight years on, has not eventuated,” he said.

“Perhaps it is time to refer the case back to the European Court of Human Rights in order to bring pressure to bear on the British Government.”

Param Cumaraswamy also discussed the failure of the British Government, RUC and Law Society in the North to provide protection for Rosemary Nelson, who was murdered in a loyalist car-bomb in March 1999.

Policing challenges must be met head-on

Alex Maskey

Interview with Alex Maskey: A year of Sinn Féin on the North’s Policing Board

Published in An Phoblacht on 23 October, 2008

FOLLOWING the historic decision by the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in January 2007 to critically engage with the policing structures in the Six Counties, MLAs Alex Maskey, Martina Anderson and Daithí McKay took up their seats on the Policing Board just over a year ago. Speaking to An Phoblacht’s Emma Clancy this week, Alex Maskey said that there has been both progress achieved and serious challenges encountered in the effort to transform policing through this engagement.

“As we know all too well, the police in the North of Ireland have historically acted as the paramilitary arm of the British state and the force’s primary role was the suppression of nationalist and republican dissent. Over the past decade, Sinn Féin has achieved crucial reforms and legislation which have opened a framework for us to begin to change this.”

The ‘new beginning for policing’ outlined in the Good Friday Agreement and then the hard-won legislation for the human rights-based reforms called for by the Patten Report were two key developments in the struggle to change a partisan, repressive force into an acceptable civic policing service. Maskey said that a key challenge is to ensure that the progress in legislation must now be implemented on the ground.

He outlined to An Phoblacht the work that Sinn Féin members have been doing on the Policing Board in order to try to achieve the goals set out collectively out by the party at the 2007 Extraordinary Ard Fheis, the challenges they face and the necessity of devolution of policing and justice powers from Westminster.

Policing Board

“During the past year, we’ve had to try to take stock of the Policing Board and to familiarise ourselves with its role and the way it functions. Now we are entering the next phase where we can focus on our specific priorities.”

The key role of the Policing Board is to monitor the service and hold it to account, as well as negotiating the PSNI’s plans and budgets. It also comprises several sub-committees which oversee various aspects of the functioning of the police.

Alex Maskey is the chair of the Community Engagement Committee and is leading the effort to build a new policing model where communities are consulted, have input into shaping policing and monitor the implementation of PSNI/neighbourhood goals.

He explained that among the range of the key issues Sinn Féin is playing a leading role in are community engagement, human rights, personnel, delivery of service – ie crime prevention and detection rates – and estate management.

Foyle MLA Martina Anderson has been working on the board’s Human Rights Committee which aims to ensure that all aspects of policing are compliant with human rights legislation. North Antrim MLA Daithí McKay is part of the Personnel Committee and a key issue he is involved in is trying to ensure that all communities have proper representation in each area of the PSNI.

Gerry O’Hara is serving on the board as an independent member and, among other issues, he has been campaigning on Irish-language rights.

Community Engagement

Maskey described the role of the Community Engagement Committee as being to oversee the development of the board’s engagement with the public and to target particular communities and groups with specific needs.

A crucial plank in the democratisation of policing is the district policing partnerships (DPPs) and the committee Maskey heads is overseeing their development.

The DPPs mirror the district councils across the North and they are the key forum for community involvement – through public meetings and other mechanisms – in developing local and board policing plans and in monitoring the implementation of these plans and performance of the police.

Maskey said the DPPs have become much more representative since Sinn Féin’s decision to enter policing structures and that people are now asking the tough questions never raised previously.

“As the committee chair, part of my role is to ensure that the DPPs receive proper resourcing. Part of this is training and providing education for DPP members in human rights legislation and standards in order that the DPPs may be better equipped to monitor the police in a more robust and informed way.

“In this way, we’re pushing an agenda of enabling the DPPs to become more assertive and efficient.

“Sinn Féin is pushing for a less formal format for the DPP meetings,” he said. “To ask a question, it must be submitted in writing seven days before the meeting. This obviously restricts the ability of communities and the police to have an actual discussion in the DPP.”

He said Sinn Féin has successfully improved the accountability of Chief Constable Hugh Orde and other senior officers by organising special public meetings with an open format where people can directly raise questions from the floor.

Priorities

“Our focus in the next period, including in the next policing budget and policing plan, is to significantly develop the neighbourhood policing model,” Maskey said. “We view this democratic input as essential for transforming the police into a fair public service for all, as well as for practically solving the problems plaguing many communities.

“We also aim to ensure that the PSNI becomes more effective and efficient in actually carrying out its work. We want to see a significant increase in the prevention and detection of crime and we view the targets set last year as baseline minimum.”

He said Sinn Féin also wants to see the PSNI use its resources more efficiently.

“As part of the process of demilitarisation, we want to see up to 40 redundant, barrack-like police stations shut down. They are not only a drain on resources but are essentially a barrier to the development of a constructive relationship between the PSNI and local communities. Who wants to approach one of these intimidatory forts to report a crime?

“Our position as we go into the discussions around the next budget, due in January, is that all of these redundant stations should be closed.”

Maskey also said this question relates to the concept of policing in partnership with the community: “People don’t want to be ‘policed’ – they want a policing service.”

Community safety

A key issue for local communities across the North that has been raised consistently on the DPPs is community safety and anti-social behaviour.

“Anti-social behaviour can be totally disempowering for a community, especially when the problem and perpetrators are identified to police by the community and no action is taken. It can grow from being an annoyance into serious crime,” Maskey said.

He explained that Sinn Féin takes a holistic approach to anti-social behaviour.

“We realise that a large proportion of anti-social crime is carried out by alienated young people who have no hope and feel alienated from their communities.

“So we take the approach where we aim to combine an effective community-led policing service with a very progressive social and economic agenda which aims to overcome the poverty and marginalisation which is the major cause of such problems. We work to do everything we can to provide youth services, decent housing and employment for people.

“At the same time, people have a right to feel safe in their neighbourhoods. Sinn Féin is determined to ensure that communities will get the security they are entitled to.”

Maskey pointed to the successful initiatives taken by activists in west Belfast such as the Safer Neighbourhood Forums which have effectively reduced crime and anti-social behaviour through a focused working relationship with the PSNI and statutory agencies.

He said that these neighbourhood-led initiatives showed the way forward for community-based policing, where organised communities have the capacity to identify the problems in the area and with the policing service and to communicate these to the PSNI in an ongoing way.

“Not every neighbourhood has this capacity but republicans need to lead the way in developing and generalising successful models of democratic policing. We need to know what we want to demand when we go into negotiations in the Policing Board and we have to be leading on the ground in order to know the needs of the people.

“We need to approach it as we do all our other campaign work: the same way we would struggle for decent housing rights and public services, we need to struggle for an acceptable public police service.”

Truth recovery

According to Maskey, community engagement structures are crucial not only for shaping the direction and policies of the PSNI. Bodies such as the DPP can also provide communities with the space where they can voice demands for truth on the role of police in Britain’s dirty war against Irish republicans.

Collusion and state murder have been consistently raised at DPP meetings and by Sinn Féin members on the Policing Board. Maskey said:

“The PSNI is hoping that these cases will just quietly go away but we will ensure that they stay at the top of the agenda until victims and families receive the truth.”

The 1992 RUC assassination of unarmed IRA Volunteer Pearse Jordan in west Belfast has consistently been raised in the Belfast DPP and on the Policing Board in support of the Jordan family’s battle for the truth about the state murder of their son.

In the Lisburn DPP, Marian Walsh, mother of teenager Damien Walsh – who was killed in a UDA sectarian attack in 1993 – recently confronted senior police officers about the vast amount of evidence of RUC collusion in her son’s murder.

Maskey said: “It is essential for the PSNI to face up to the ugly past of policing in the Six Counties so that the families of victims may know the truth, so that those responsible for these crimes be held accountable and these elements be removed from the PSNI, and so that a new relationship can be built between the police and the nationalist people.

“At the moment too many within the PSNI are continuing to play an obstructive role on these issues, which shows the need for a serious change of culture at all levels of the organisation.

“We have used our position in the policing structures to build public awareness and pressure for truth and justice and we will continue to do so.”

Maskey said that Sinn Féin is campaigning strongly against the use of lethal weapons by the PSNI. Sinn Féin has been the only party on the Policing Board to vote against the motion endorsing the use of 50,000-volt Taser guns in the North and Martina Anderson has voiced the party’s rejection of the deadly weapon, pointing out that while they are classified as ‘non-lethal’, they are responsible for the deaths of 300 people worldwide.

The United Nations has recently described the use of Taser guns as a form of torture that can be lethal.

The PSNI has already used the weapon against a man in Derry who had to be immediately hospitalised. Anderson described the board’s decision to endorse the deployment as “shameful” and said it was an attempt to undermine the judicial process as there is currently a judicial review of the deployment of the weapons underway.

Transfer of powers

Discussing the question of the significance of the transfer of policing and justice powers from Britain to the North, Maskey said:

“Over the past year on the Policing Board, I’ve become even more aware just how inefficient the system is in terms of different bodies not even communicating with each other.

“As the chair of the Community Engagement Committee I’ve convened meetings between the PSNI and other sections and agencies of the Criminal Justice System and it’s been very illuminating as to why, in a practical sense, we need the transfer of powers: we need the system to be joined up.

“With a transfer of powers to local democratic authority we can actually have a ‘home’ or somewhere to go that can be responsible for the overall provision of the policing service, which is a place for all the relevant organisations and bodies to be able to come under one roof.”

He said that the vast majority of people involved in policing realise this.

“Devolution will be a concrete step forward for our ability to develop a coherent and effective service capable of communicating with each other and with the community and delivering the collectively agreed goals.”

Democratic accountability

“Even the unionist politicians who are stalling on delivering their commitments from St Andrew’s acknowledge that devolution has to happen and that it will be beneficial to the entire population of the Six Counties,” Maskey said.

“Their opposition has absolutely nothing to do with the development of the policing and justice system but with a narrow political agenda of resisting change and democracy.

“The most important aspect of devolution of policing and justice is, of course, the question of democracy and accountability.

“This would be a significant step forward in that it would be the first time that people in the North could actually be empowered to democratically oversee the provision of the policing service in a meaningful way.

Local, elected officials would be accountable to the public.”

Maskey continued: “If you compare the justice system in some countries where they actually elect senior judges, for instance, you realise just how little say people in the North have over what is a major part of governance.

“But devolution will just be the first step. It’s not going to solve the numerous and serious problems we face in building an accountable civic policing and justice system but it will remove a barrier to progress in doing so.”

Mandate

“Sinn Féin won a mandate from the nationalist community for a strategy of critical engagement with the policing structures,” Maskey explained.

“But as I’ve said to Hugh Orde, the nationalist people didn’t vote for the PSNI: they voted for Sinn Féin’s ability to change it.

“This really should not be taken for granted by the PSNI. I’m not confident that this fact has sunk in at the top management levels or that it has been translated through the ranks.

“We’re talking about a history of the brutalisation and intimidation of the nationalist people in the North – the police have to earn our acceptance and trust. And they’ll have to work much harder to do this.

“As a party, Sinn Féin is acutely conscious that our mandate is one for delivering deep-going change that makes a meaningful difference to communities across the North and consigns partisan, political policing to history.

“We’re approaching this work with the utmost seriousness and we are committed to meeting the challenges head-on.”