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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
No Dodging the Moral Dilemma

David Adams • Irish Times, 18 March 2005

Last weekend I listened while a guest on BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence programme explained why, in his opinion, people in working-class nationalist areas of Northern Ireland don't co-operate with the police, even where crimes as horrendous as the murder of Robert McCartney are concerned.

He was responding to a suggestion by the interviewer that this may be "a terribly troubling commentary on the morality of the society in which we live".

The guest was emphatic that it had nothing whatsoever to do with morality, but claimed instead that "a significant number of people who live in the North of Ireland do not accept the legitimacy of the [Northern Ireland] state, and never have. And, for that reason, have never felt they could go to the security forces or the police service . . . that there has never been a police service they could give any allegiance to". He went on to say that this has been true since the foundation of Northern Ireland and, "it may well remain that way."

Again he stressed, for good measure: "It has nothing to do with people's morality. In Northern Ireland people are just as moral, if not more moral, than people anywhere else on these islands." So there you have it.

It is this devoutly held political principle that prevents neighbours and friends of Robert McCartney from helping police bring to justice the people who killed him. Presumably the same applies in the other 30 or more instances of Catholics being murdered by the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland since the ceasefires of 1994. And, all the while, there were the rest of us thinking that the likelihood of people from those communities being threatened, beaten, shot or stabbed for co-operating with the police might have something to do with it.

But not so, apparently. It is all about the legitimacy or otherwise of the Northern Ireland state. Perhaps those people from unionist working-class areas who are reluctant to co-operate with the police also have a problem with the legitimacy of Northern Ireland.

As for morality, how can choosing to elevate a political belief above helping bring murderers to justice be held to be anything other than a profoundly moral decision? But, most troubling, the person making this spurious argument wasn't some automaton-like Sinn Féin representative doing his best to deflect attention away from the McCartney, McGinley and Robinson killings. If it had been, it would not have been surprising, and certainly not nearly as disturbing.

It was respected Irish News columnist and former SDLP councillor Brian Feeney on the airwaves last Sunday telling us, despite all evidence to the contrary, that people in nationalist areas are freely choosing not to co-operate with the police.

If that is indeed the case, it makes you wonder why the Provisional IRA ever felt a need to intimidate people in the first place.

Brian Feeney was less forthcoming when asked how this lack of support for the PSNI and the Northern Ireland justice system can be resolved, and little wonder.

For, if what he says about problems with the legitimacy of Northern Ireland is true, then, taken to its logical conclusion, it can only mean that there will not be widespread support for policing from the nationalist community, short of a united Ireland. Thankfully, though, that doesn't seem to be the case: for every indicator points to the fact that he is wrong in his claims.

Besides the scores of young Catholics who have rushed to join the PSNI, a recent survey, conducted for the Belfast Telegraph and BBC Newsnight, found that 75 per cent of Catholics expressed a degree of confidence in the police.

And, as a fellow panellist, PUP leader David Ervine, was quick to point out, Feeney's talk of nationalists not accepting the legitimacy of Northern Ireland runs completely counter to the fact that nationalism, almost in its entirety, voted in favour of the Belfast Agreement. And, in so doing, agreed that Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom until a majority of its people decides otherwise.

But that Brian Feeney was factually wrong is beside the point. As an important and respected opinion-former within the nationalist community, he was morally wrong not to publicly acknowledge, and roundly condemn, the intimidation of potential witnesses by the Provisional IRA. He was wrong in not calling for people to give their full support to the PSNI, as they try to bring to account those who are murdering with impunity in Northern Ireland.

And, by confining his remarks to the rehearsal of an obsolete, ultra-nationalist mantra about a police service that has changed out of all recognition, he was wrong again.

Inadvertently I'm sure, Feeney shifted the focus of attention away from those who are intimidating nationalist and unionist working-class communities, and put it squarely on to the police. He breathed new life into a dead argument. Bolstered by this, no doubt, Sinn Féin has been running with variations on the same theme since Monday past.

Everything in life is about moral choices, not least whom you choose to blame.








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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

22 March 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

A Must Read
Mick Hall

Green Paper on Irish Unity
32 CSM Press Release

The Advisocrats
Anthony McIntyre

Fig Leaf
Dr John Coulter

Democractic Killers
Fred A Wilcox

Eamon McCann

No Dodging the Moral Dilemma
David Adams

After St Patrick's Day, Where Goes the Peace Process?
Fr. Sean Mc Manus. INC

The Left Way Could be the Right Way for Sinn Fein
Eamon McCann

Robert McCartney
Carol Mallon

Don't Lose Perspective
Richard Wallace

Anthony McIntyre

Is Spring Banging at the Doors of the Arab World?
Michael Youlton

The Letters page has been updated.

16 March 2005

Statement from the Family of Knife Murder Victim Mark 'Mousey' Robinson
Robinson Family, Derry

Power in the Pub
Anthony McIntyre

Why No Arrests? (Whose agenda are we working to)?
TR FitzSimons

McCartneys: how the personal became political
Brendan O'Neill

No Breakthrough
Michael Benson

Hope for Justice
Mick Hall

Provisional Thuggery in Strabane
Des Dalton

Basking in the Glory?
Dr John Coulter

This Is What Democracy Doesn't Look Like
Fred A. Wilcox

Way Beyond Orwell
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

Aliyah and the Oligarchs
Mary La Rosa



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