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No Other Law

The Politics Of Policing In Occupied Ireland


32 County Sovereignty Movement • 15 January 2007


The context in which the current debate on British Policing in Ireland is taking place is of British orientation and design. For the British government's part the fact of their jurisdictional claim is not the question but rather how that claim should be administered with a veneered Irish political dimension. From the British and Unionist point of view policing in its current political context is an issue to underpin the constitutional validity of partition. From the constitutional nationalist perspective the policing issue affords no leverage on constitutional matters because under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement the constitutional question is resolved.

The notion that policing represents a Rubicon for the Provisional Movement to cross is a distortion of their true political and constitutional predicament. Accepting policing is the logical consequence of accepting the legitimacy of British Parliamentary activity in Ireland. That Rubicon was publicly crossed in 1998 and if the Hume/Adams document was to see the light of day a private crossing could be acknowledged from an earlier date. Regardless of the political provenance of when the event took place the political implications facing us today verify the magnitude of the error of having done so.

Much has been made of the point that accepting British policing in Ireland is a symbol too far. The visual spectacle of republicans donning the uniform of once perceived legitimate targets blinds them to the depth of the malaise which such an act would actually represent. The true issue here is not policing per se, but the legitimacy of law, of which policing is one instrument. In occupied Ireland republicans need to know the real difference between the legitimacy of law and a duty to order. In the current political context this distinction is being deliberately fudged.

All societies require policing. The necessity of policing is an integral part of the constitutional functioning of any state. Legitimate policing requires constitutional legitimacy to confer it. But even in the absence of constitutional legitimacy policing is nonetheless required. From this perspective a different legitimacy is demanded, one which is neutral in the conflict but whose employment de facto recognises that a conflict over sovereignty exists and that issues such as policing are beyond permanent resolution until the conflict over sovereignty is democratically resolved. This is the political position which republicans need to address.

The issue of policing is intermeshed within two distinct relationships;

  1. Policing and the constitutional status quo.
  2. Policing and the Criminal Justice System.

Policing cannot be detached from either relationship and dealt with independently because the relationships can only function on the basis of their interdependency. To validate any component part validates the totality of all the parts. Endorsing policing endorses the political power which enacts it but it also endorses the judiciary and penal systems which operate in tandem with it. To politically argue that policing can be dealt with in isolation from the constitutional conflict is a fallacy promoted from a political point of view which has been outmanoeuvred. In historical terms the repealists have once again become the reformists.

When sovereignty is in dispute all aspects of policing are political. Civil policing is the most potent political scenario sought because it portrays the issue of sovereignty as being settled. For all the lamenting and political scaremongering about securocrats and British State interference in policing, normalising policing, and by extension the criminal justice system, is the position most cherished by the occupying power. As sovereignty is in dispute all aspects of republican strategies must act as counterpoints to such British efforts. Republicans can only address policing in the context of addressing the dispute over sovereignty.

Law & Order

'We have declared for an Irish Republic and we cannot live under any other law'

The prophetic words of General Liam Lynch are also instructive. There are no semi legitimacies in the right to enact or enforce law. And neither in challenging this right can semi legitimacies be employed. The right to enact and enforce laws is the ultimate expression of democratic sovereignty and it cannot be diluted to accept imposed political compromises. From Lynch's perspective the British were the occupying power frustrating the democratic expression of the Irish people and devoid of any right to enact or enforce laws on our behalf. This must also be the position of present day republicans. It is a practical and pragmatic position because it determines the parameters of the strategies we can adopt to confront the violation of our sovereignty without undermining it by our own actions. It also affords us wider political options.

The illegality of the British presence in Ireland is not determined by our strength or weakness to resist it but by our ability to politically articulate it. This articulation becomes the corner stone of our strategic initiatives in building that resistance. British illegality must be confronted on the basis of our lawful right to national sovereignty and on this basis only. The 32 County Sovereignty Movement has been to the fore in this field with our Legal Submission to the United Nations. At its most basic level the Submission places the debate on issues such as policing in their proper constitutional context. And this represents the first step that republicans must take concerning this debate.

Thus we are confronted with three categories of policing in occupied Ireland:

  1. The right of the Irish people to national sovereignty and to enact and enforce Irish laws for the Irish people.
  2. British policing in Ireland.
  3. The legal obligations of the British government, as an occupying power, concerning policing under international law.

It is incumbent on republicans to understand and adopt a constitutional position which allows us to address comprehensively each category as it is strategically presented to us. Policing as a socio/political argument is a front argument for constitutional validity. The issue of policing can only be detached from the constitutional status quo if that status is deemed to be legitimate. Policing is not a tangent to the Anglo-Irish conflict but an integral component of it. It is an act of British Parliamentary activity in Ireland which represents the core cause of the conflict.

Policing And National Sovereignty

The Republican Position

Our Independence has been declared. It has been ratified by the people acting as a democratic unit and continues to be defended by national forces. The British claim to sovereignty over part of the island of Ireland is subject to legal challenge under international law in the United Nations. The Irish people are legally entitled to be governed by our own laws enacted by a democratically elected Irish government and enforced by an accountable Irish police force. The 32 County Sovereignty Movement calls for the following:

  1. The restoration of our national sovereignty to allow for conflict resolution.
  2. Support for our legal submission to the United Nations.
  3. The establishment of a Democratic Forum for Irish political representatives to draft a blueprint for an All Ireland Police Force and by consequence an accountable and equitable Criminal Justice System for the Irish people.

The republican position must be a pragmatic position. It must be cognisant of its history but relevant to its present. Its analysis has to be in a modern context and articulated with a clarity which ensures that its relevance is understood. It must also engage its political opponents. The 32CSM has endeavoured to define this position both as a political and ideological stance but also as a political activity. Having identified the issue of national sovereignty as central to the Anglo Irish conflict the 32CSM immediately set about securing Irish claims to our sovereignty in the context of international law. The politics of this move was to demonstrate the centrality of this issue in the Anglo-Irish conflict. In making our legal submission to the United Nations seeking recognition of our right to national sovereignty, and highlighting the British violation of our sovereignty, we sought to ensure that dialogue within a conflict resolution process could not be distracted from this core issue.

The UN Submission was one facet of our political approach. In November 2005 the 32CSM launched a strategic initiative entitled Irish Democracy, A Framework For Unity which sought engagement with those who constantly demanded 'an alternative' from republican separatists. Addressing both governments, the main Unionist parties and Provisional Sinn Fein we endeavoured to engage with these parties concerning their claims as to where the Good Friday Agreement project could actually take the Irish people. Having been inundated with public pronouncements to the effect that dialogue was the only way forward no dialogue was forthcoming from any of these parties. The republican position remains open for dialogue and as with this paper on the issue of policing we renew our call for proper political engagement to resolve the Anglo-Irish conflict.

The British Position

Throughout what has been called the 'peace process', both in public and private session, all British governments have steadfastly defended their sovereign claim over the six counties. That defence is evident in their successful strategies to dilute constitutional nationalism's defence of Irish national rights. This has been brought to the point of getting said nationalists to concede that no such rights exist on a thirty two county basis. The British government would not countenance any movement on any issue unless its sovereign authority in Ireland was explicitly recognised. Issues such as policing and equality rights were political expedients to serve this agenda. The political trajectory of constitutional nationalism, in the face of this British pragmatism, can be traced from the infamous 'Out, Out, Out' of Margaret Thatcher in response to their New Ireland Forum findings, to the deletion of Articles 2 & 3 and an accepted partitioned endorsement of partition itself.

The central plank of British policy in Ireland is to secure an 'Irish mandate' for its presence. They view the dual referenda held in 1998 as such a mandate. Those who argued that participation in this process could in no way diminish their ability to effectively call for British withdrawal are met with the telling riposte that the British are here with Irish consent, theirs included. Equally the British government can invoke this vote to bolster its strategy of trying to portray itself as honest broker between two divided communities. Having publicly stated that it had 'No selfish, strategic or economic reasons to remain in Ireland' it set about a dual strategy of securing its constitutional grip over the six counties whilst simultaneously undermining Irish claims to national rights over the territory of the island. The illusion that devolution represented a diminution of British sovereignty on a par with the removal of Articles 2 & 3 was easily sold in a climate of 'war or peace'. This very issue was dealt with by the 32CSM in our Addendum to our UN submission in April 1998. Paragraph 5 reads.

5. The Belfast Agreement, in clause 2, under the heading Constitutional Issues, states: "the participants also note that the two Governments have accordingly undertaken in the context of this comprehensive political agreement, to propose and support changes in, respectively, the Constitution of Ireland and in British legislation relating to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland."

This was an attempt by the two Governments to present the abolition of Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution as a quid pro quo for the removal of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 (known to Irish people as the 'Partition Cut') from the Statute Book. This was a classic case of political deception on the part of Westminster and Leinster House, as it is a basic political and historical fact that, in relation to the partition of Ireland, the 1920 Government of Ireland Act had already been made redundant by subsequent legislation which superimposed it, viz. the 1949 (Ireland) Act, the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement and the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Under the terms of the Government of Ireland Act, it was possible that the constitutional position of the Six Counties could have been changed by legislation at Westminster. The 1949 (Ireland) Act, however, stated that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland (sic). could not be changed without the consent of the majority of the population of Northern Ireland (sic). This in effect was the constitutional embodiment of the Unionist veto. This Act was endorsed by the 1973 Act and further amended by the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement in which for the first time the Dublin Government accepted the legitimacy of partition. The manner in which the Dublin Government, opposition parties and the Northern Nationalist parties, who supported The Belfast Agreement, presented the deletion of Articles 2 and 3 as a quid pro quo for the removal of the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, was nothing less than a confidence trick.

This represents the basis for British governance in Ireland and it mirrors the basis upon which the British government will approach the issue of policing.

British Policing In Ireland


When the British government imposed partition across the sovereign territory of the Irish people they ensured that its border would be policed along both sides of it. National policing was not only denied to the Irish people but two British surrogate police forces were established to prevent its realisation. And although the Irish dimension of these surrogate forces was widely flagged their formative origins were by a British hand. Partition remains the principle obstacle to the formation of accountable policing on the island of Ireland. The present psychology and political inclination of both these forces is testimony to this fact.

One of the primary functions of a Police force is the security of the state in whose name it derives its right to exist. The primary purpose of British policing in Ireland is to secure British interests in Ireland by being exempt from democratic accountability to the Irish people. British policing in Ireland is indicative of its criminal justice system in Ireland, a system which would be anathema to the peoples of its own island. British policing in Ireland is the political policing of all aspects of British Parliamentary activity in Ireland. This is an anathema to all republicans and democrats. British policing in Ireland is beyond reform either from within or without.

The politics of the Anglo-Irish conflict are incapable of resolving the conflict. British politics in Ireland, Civil War politics, Sectarian politics, as the ascendant powers, have all demonstrated a perennial inability to secure peace and democracy for the Irish people. The RUC/PSNI and An Garda Siochana are the police forces of this failed politics. Their political instinct is to approach conflict resolution with a security agenda. British efforts to portray the conflict as an issue of law and order found a largely compliant audience in successive twenty six county political and legal establishments. Internment, repressive legislation, juryless courts, informers, shoot to kill, English hangman are the modus operandi of British policing in Ireland.

The politics of partition is ingrained with denial and exclusion. The Criminal Justice System which it has spawned is so divorced from the concept of basic justice that it is matched only by the political iniquities of the constitutional arrangement in whose name it operates. It requires bad law to sustain it. It is a circular process for self preservation. What is being proposed now in the context of Policing and the Good Friday Agreement is for constitutional nationalists and former separatists to become part of this invidious process, not just through membership of its agencies, but by practicing the kind of politics that brought it into existence. Seeking meaningless reforms to aspects of this failed system in return for recognising legitimacy of the constitutional arrangement which enacts it completely conforms to its ethos. It is political policing at its worst.

Strategically Invalid

There are numerous strategies at play in the St Andrews Agreement on the policing issue but the principle strategy, that of the British government, has already prevailed. The policing of the six counties is a regional issue for the British Parliament and it has conducted talks with regional representatives as how best to move forward on this issue. Pronouncements of demands and intentions to secure regional control over policing and to make all aspects of policing accountable to a regional assembly are immediately negated by the acceptance of regional status itself. By default Westminster is the National Parliament charged with the running of national matters. Notions of removing the influence of the British Security Services from policing in the six counties fails to understand that policing national borders is a matter for the National Parliament. This is a function of British Policing in Ireland regardless of any green hue regional politicians may wish to claim kudos for. British Security Services, if they are answerable to anyone, are answerable to the British Cabinet and not some regional committee.

The 32 County Sovereignty Movement submit that British policing in Ireland is unacceptable in any guise because its fundamental purpose is to secure British interests here. The inherent sectarian nature of this policing is beyond reform save for fundamental change to the constitutional status that it defends. Neither community is served by this policing because that is not its function. It is a regional surrogate of the British Security Services presently endeavouring to secure the support of those who once opposed it to counteract those who still do. It is a tool of British Parliamentary activity in Ireland.

Policing Now

The extent to which successive British governments have utilised military and political counter insurgency tactics in the six counties classifies the area as a war zone. That the issue of Irish national sovereignty was the principle issue upon which the British government refused to engage on in the so called conflict resolution process demonstrates that the root cause of that war remains. There exists an Anglo-Irish conflict and the British government's status within that conflict is one of an occupying power. In its role as an occupying power successive British governments have utilised and manipulated local policing to underpin and secure its occupation. That the British government refuses to concede to this status demonstrates its continued unsuitability to be the arbiters of policing in the occupied area.

As stated earlier the British declaration of 'having no selfish, strategic or economic reasons to remain in Ireland' was widely welcomed and interpreted as a declaration of British neutrality concerning the conflict in Ireland. It was this seemingly 'new departure' which prompted some republican spokespersons to announce that 'business' could be done on this basis. Regardless of what 'business' had already been conducted in private it was this declaration which initiated a more public approach to the political process which culminated in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The 32CSM reject this interpretation of the British declaration.

Recognising the true status of the British government in Ireland is a prerequisite to addressing the policing issue, not just as it pertains in the overall conflict, but on the day to day needs of a society which demands impartial policing. Politically the British government must be engaged with a view to securing, as an interim arrangement pending a resolution of the conflict, impartial policing and the operating of an equitable criminal justice system. In our attempts to engage the British on it's declared and self promoted neutral status the 32CSM drafted a submission addressed to the British government as part of our wider political engagement with our initiative Irish Democracy, A Framework For Unity. Entitled Irish Sovereignty & British Politics in Ireland we challenged the British government to act on its declared neutrality.

As details and the format of the secret contacts between republican representatives and British officials emerged the most notable public utterance from those concerned came from the then British Direct ruler in Ireland Peter Brooke in which he declared that; "The British government has no selfish, strategic or economic reasons for remaining in Northern Ireland." (sic)

It was, to all intents and purposes, an attempt by the British government to declare itself neutral regarding its presence in Ireland and the conflict thereof. The 32CSM reject this declaration on the following grounds;

  1. As the claimant to sovereignty over the region in conflict the British government must be held fully accountable as to how that sovereign claim is administered.
  2. As a claimant to sovereignty over the region in conflict the British government is automatically a party to that conflict.
  3. As a claimant to sovereignty over the region in conflict the actions of the British government have a direct consequence in determining, or not, a resolution to the conflict.

It is with these facts in mind that the 32CSM now petition the British government for a public Declaration of its Longterm Intentions Towards Ireland. And to specifically address the following issues as a fundamental necessity toward political stability and peaceful relations between our two peoples, namely;

  1. Does the British government, at some future date, foresee the ending of the Union between the Six north eastern counties of Ireland and the UK?
  2. Does the British government see the ending of the Union as probable?
  3. Has the British government, as the claimed sovereign authority over the Six county region, any preference, in any field, between the maintenance of the Union and a Unitary sovereign Irish state?
  4. Is the British government, as a reciprocal gesture to the dropping of the territorial claim by the Irish government to the entire island of Ireland as defined in Articles 2 & 3 of its Constitution, prepared, as a demonstration of its declared stance of having no selfish, strategic or economic reasons for remaining in the Six county region, to withdraw the British claim of sovereignty thereof?

The British government, beyond an official recognition of receipt of the submission, has declined to respond.

The 32CSM now calls upon progressive republican and nationalist political opinion to orientate the debate on policing into the context of an overall resolution of the conflict over sovereignty and to specifically address the policing issue on the basis of the following political facts:

  1. The British Government is an occupying power in Ireland with legal obligations concerning policing as laid down in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.
  2. The British government's strategic attempts to project itself as a neutral in the Anglo-Irish conflict should form the thrust of republican and nationalist political efforts to secure an impartial interim criminal justice system under UN auspices.

We reiterate our call for the establishment of a Democratic Forum for Irish political representatives to articulate a cohesive political strategy on policing, and other important issues, as part of new efforts to secure a democratic settlement to the Anglo-Irish conflict.


It is not pragmatic to sit on or espouse principle alone. Republican pragmatism demands that our principles are served by political initiatives which are in themselves guided by those very same principles. The 32CSM advocates that an Irish Democratic Framework is the template within which such initiatives are formulated. In our submission to the British government in Irish Democracy, A Framework For Unity the expediency of British politics in Ireland was challenged on the basis of inconsistencies between their public pronouncements and their political actions. The issue of policing falls into this category. British policing in Ireland must be viewed by republicans as the political expedient that it is, a tool for a British agenda to underpin its claim of sovereignty over part of Ireland. It is not an act of British civic benevolence to the people of the occupied area but an exploitation of a civic necessity for the benefit of British Parliamentary interests concerning Ireland.

Irish national interests, advocated as sovereign rights, are the pragmatic counterpoint to the British agenda. Republican engagement with British politics in Ireland must be grounded on the necessity of resolving the question as to whether Britain has any right to be here. The issue for republicans is not the manner of the British presence but the very fact of it. For republicans the ultimate resolution is British disengagement to facilitate Irish consent as to how we wish to govern ourselves. It is in this context alone that Unionist consent can experience true democratic expression. Issues such as policing in its current context are secondary matters to distract the body politic from addressing the core cause of the conflict. That is the British intent. Alternatives to British solutions in Ireland are Irish solutions in Ireland.

The 32CSM has endeavoured to practice a politics which ensures that all our political actions are synonymous with our political and ideological claims. We have long argued that such a political practice is essential if republican aims are to be advanced. We have allowed ourselves a wide political remit by predicating all our strategies on the basic premise that Irish sovereignty is inalienable and indefeasible. In calling for the above we have ensured that the issue of policing is dealt with in its proper constitutional context and by default, have ensured that the violation of our national sovereignty by continued British Parliamentary activity in Ireland is to the political fore.





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