heavily trailed beforehand, there was nothing
new in last week's written statement from Tony
Blair on the future role of MI5 in Northern Ireland.
It amounted to no more than a repetition of what
is already laid down in the relevant section (annex
E) of the St Andrew's Agreement.
this, Sinn Féin followed with a ludicrous
claim that it had made "significant progress"
in negotiations around accountability and future
relationships between MI5 and civic policing.
It left one wondering why the subject had been
raised at all, but only for a few hours.
soon emerged that around the same time as Blair's
statement was being delivered to the House of
Commons, the British government was distributing
a letter to Northern Ireland's political parties
informing them that the Assets Recovery Agency
(ARA) is to be abolished.
high-profile airing of MI5's role in Northern
Ireland had been an attempt by both the British
government and Sinn Féin to deflect public
attention from this far more serious development.
their own measure, republicans had indeed made
significant progress in the negotiations. Commenting
in 2005 on an ARA investigation into the finances
of leading republican Thomas "Slab"
Murphy, Gerry Adams described the agency's work
as "hostile to the peace process".
he did not go on to explain why he considered
a legal body dedicated to tackling criminality
and gangsterism as an obstacle to peace, but he
had made his feelings towards the ARA known.
viewing the situation from a different angle would
consider that Mr Adams and his colleagues have
now managed to negotiate the removal of the most
important and successful bulwark against organised
crime in Northern Ireland.
negotiations, we should remember, are aimed at
getting republicans to support policing and criminal
justice in the North. Yet, is there not something
paradoxical about having to destroy the most vital
elements of a justice system to convince someone
to support it?
the price of Sinn Féin support for policing
and law and order is the wholesale destruction
of anti-crime agencies and the neutering of the
PSNI, then how valuable is that support?
those circumstances, could one reasonably claim
a genuine change in republican attitudes to the
rule of law? Or would it not be more accurate
to say that the rule of law had been contorted
to fit with a republican viewpoint?
well as expressing his surprise at the abolition
of the ARA, former member of the Patten commission,
Senator Maurice Hayes, commented the other day
on policing in the North and what he called the
"new term of civic policing".
said: "It [civic policing] seems to envisage
a police service that does not actually arrest
anybody . . . and which is not equipped with the
intelligence or the powers to counter modern,
organised crime. This is certainly not the police
service envisioned by the Patten report".
it seems to be the only form of policing that
will be acceptable to Sinn Féin. Frighteningly,
in its eagerness to have a Northern Assembly reinstated,
it appears the British government will be only
too happy to deliver what republicans want.
what good a powersharing executive in Northern
Ireland if we have to create a gangsters' paradise
to achieve it?
British of course deny suggestions that the abolition
of the ARA is linked to their attempts to secure
republican support for policing in the North.
denial is simply not plausible.
it wasn't linked, then why did they not delay
a decision on the ARA until after the March deadline
for Assembly elections to avoid just such a suspicion
arising? Instead, it was conveniently scrapped
just a few days before the Sinn Féin ardchomhairle
met to discuss whether to recommend support for
the PSNI and criminal justice system to a special
British also say that their planned merging of
the ARA with the London-based Serious Organised
Crime Agency will increase local operational efficiency.
is absurd. The ARA is by far the most successful
agency of its kind in the UK. Making it part of
a larger, more broadly focused and less successful
organisation based in Britain, can only dilute
if not completely destroy its ability to tackle
organised crime in Northern Ireland.
Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Orde, a man not noted
for going public every time he disagrees with
government policy, has expressed his reservations
about the removal of the ARA.
said he "remains to be convinced" that
dissolving the agency is a good idea. Praising
the work of the ARA, Sir Hugh said if its closure
leaves gaps in the battle against crime, then
he is prepared "to fill them with my own
staff, because it is a vital part of the criminal
that will not work.
is the nature and extent of modern organised crime
that the conventional structures of policing have
proved inadequate in tackling it. It was for this
reason that dedicated agencies like the ARA were
formed in the first place. Northern Ireland simply
cannot afford to be left without one.
with permission from the author.