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SF Seeks to Curtail NI Policing


David Adams • Irish Times, 19 January 2007

Although 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.

Despite 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.

It 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.

The 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.

By 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".

Unfortunately, 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.

Those 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.

These 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?

If 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?

In 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?

As 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".

He 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".

Yet, 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.

But what good a powersharing executive in Northern Ireland if we have to create a gangsters' paradise to achieve it?

The 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.

Their denial is simply not plausible.

If 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 ardfheis.

The British also say that their planned merging of the ARA with the London-based Serious Organised Crime Agency will increase local operational efficiency.

This 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.

PSNI 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.

He 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 justice procedure".

But that will not work.

Such 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.


Reprinted with permission from the author.




























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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

28 January 2007

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British Policing is Not an Alternative
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$F Hats
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Policing Problems
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Digging Up the Truth
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State Terrorism Par Excellence
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Collusion: Dirty War Crime
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A Peacemaker at the Start and the Finish
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