The Blanket


A journal of protest & dissent


You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.
- John Morley



Anthony McIntyre
Parliamentary Brief

May 1997


Policing is a contentious in issue in virtually all modern societies. But in the North of Ireland the contentiousness is amplified greatly as a result of the level of political violence indulged in by the area's police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Throughout its history, the RUC has served as a pro-unionist partisan political force rather than an impartial civil police service. Nationalists have no happy memories of the RUC and look forward to the day when it shall be disbanded.

It is in the context of the unacceptability of the RUC to many nationalists that alternative policing measures have been employed. In recent times the media and many politicians have been attempting to whip up a moral panic over the phenomenon of 'punishment beatings'. The latter are usually performed by groups of men wielding baseball bats or iron bars, who then proceed to systematically break the limbs, and occasionally the ribs of the person being punished.

But this type of activity is only a minimal facet of 'community policing'. On a much broader scale, but seldom reported, is the graded system of punishments which do not involve the use of violence - such as warnings, ostracism, pickets of houses, public notices identifying anti-social elements, expulsion from the community usually for a fixed period of relatively short duration.

The punishment beating itself has taken over from the practice of knee-capping, which was a standard feature of community justice since the outbreak of violent political conflict. The IRA is widely believed to have been responsible for most of the punishment attacks throughout the past twenty six years. Indeed, the organisation in an interview in the An Phoblacht/Republican News in 1995, admitted that it had carried out eight such attacks, despite the ceasefire.

For that reason, it is instructive to gauge just how far the marginalisation process of the British state has succeeded in forcing Sinn Fein away from defending the actions of the IRA. One of the latest punishment beatings in West Belfast, presumably carried out by the IRA, provoked the Sinn Fein response that it was a brutal act. Other Sinn Fein spokespeople have described such attacks as at best acts of revenge. Violent as such actions unquestionably are, they nonetheless are considerably less so than the numerous killings of British soldiers for which the IRA were responsible over the years and which failed to produce any Sinn Fein condemnation.

What Sinn Fein, ostensibly, fail to realise is that in making such condemnations - as a means of escaping their own marginalisation - they are in fact marginalising the methods utilised by IRA volunteers to give some relief to tormented communities.

How the worm has turned. And those with the prescience to predict it a decade ago were dismissed as cynics!






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