The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Police Process

It is true that the police may act in the interests of individual members of the working class, but they have historically opposed, and contemporarily oppose, the interests of the working class as a whole – Tony Bunyan

Anthony McIntyre • 30 June 2004

I have a vague memory of first hearing Robert McBride speak in the mid-1990s. A friend of the nationalist politician, Gerry Kelly, the former ANC prisoner was in Belfast, it seemed, to allay considerable republican grassroots concerns about where the peace process was taking republicans. The Sinn Fein leadership had earlier called on republican turkeys to celebrate Christmas, and after initial bouts of orchestrated flag waving and victory cavalcades through West Belfast in August 1994, it was beginning to dawn on greater numbers that one fate alone awaits a turkey at the dinner table of its foe.

But McBride has the credentials. Once on death row in Apartheid South Africa for his involvement in a botched 1980s ANC bomb attack that killed three women on a crowded Durban beach, he was released in 1992 by the government his movement, crucially, would come to replace. There is no parallel here for that. The ANC succeeded in its battle to end white apartheid; the Provisional IRA failed in its struggle to end British rule. The whites don’t rule in South Africa, but the British rule in the North of Ireland.

The personal authority McBride brought to his task coupled with whatever oratory powers he opted to employ would prove a formidable weapon in the armoury of a Sinn Fein leadership determined to abandon opposition to the Northern state and become part of its administration. If a ‘successful revolutionary’ could proclaim the peace process as the way to go then who were the denizens of working class Belfast to say otherwise? For the leadership, the value of bringing Robert McBride over lay in an awareness that it is much easier to make an icon of someone few know personally and who is involved in a struggle not many more know much about. In the mind's eye our mentors seem to acquire mystical status when we don't see them boozing, brawling and chasing skirt every other night in Belfast clubs. It helps charisma usurp reason.

Over the years it has become clear that such interventions in the North were part of a broader pattern which would see ANC representatives shuttled here at different points in Sinn Fein’s jettisoning of republicanism. Their task was to help grease the leadership constructed slope taking republicans to where they swore never to go. The ‘not an ounce not a round’ chant was stripped away consonant after vowel once the millionaire Cyril Ramaphosa, arrived and proclaimed that decommissioning was what revolutionaries did. Although it seemed as absurd as being told the pope was a Protestant, many suddenly believed him.

On his latest visit to the North only last week, Robert McBride, now a South African cop responsible for policing two million people, appeared as a guest of Coiste na n-Iarchimi, a Sinn Fein ex-prisoners' association, which was holding a four-day summer school under the theme, ‘Leadership in a time of change.’ It is what Coiste seems to do these days. Committees are appointed to sit in rooms devising grandiose titles and concepts - 'new sites of struggle' is another one - to rhetorically mask the slaughter of more sacred cows. Charges from within its own ranks of junketeering completely miss the point. Coiste sponsored events are not junket driven but are strategically designed to massage the ex-prisoner community into remaining on message in relation to leadership machinations. They serve to deaden any awareness that might arise suggesting the politics of the ex-prisoners and the prisoners they once were have nothing in common.

During the Coiste summer school Robert McBride expressed the view that 'at some stage Sinn Fein members … will get involved in policing, it is going to happen and republicans must start preparing themselves for that.’ He then administered the jab - adding that while wearing a uniform was initially anathema to him, his distaste was soon overcome as a result of the ANC being in power. Decoded - being a peeler on behalf of a black elite was palatable in a way that was unthinkable under a white elite. Although in fairness to McBride his struggle did overthrow the system of white apartheid rule which was its stated objective. Here the only rule being administered is the very one republicans fought to replace – rule by the British. A republican choosing to wear the uniform of a British police force is as incongruous as wearing the prison monkey suit/criminal uniform during the H-Block/Armagh struggle for political status.

Getting ex-prisoners who refused to wear the prison uniform to now kit out as British cops would help sweeten the pill for a grassroots not as enamoured to the RUC as its leadership. It makes the mantra ‘they are our RUC too you know’ sound less ridiculous. McBride hit the nub when he pointed out that ‘political prisoners are important to the process, they command respect and have influence in their communities; if you want anything to happen you need to include those with influence.’ This is consistent with a well-established leadership practice of neutralising potential key opinion formers, particularly those from within the ex-prisoner community. Such people, were they to have followed the course they ostensibly committed themselves to while in prison, could not have avoided becoming focal points for resistance to the leadership’s creation of an alternative to republicanism, dubbed the peace process. But this option was traded in for incorporation into the plethora of salaried bureaucracies which have mushroomed as an essential component of Britain’s counter insurgency peace process. Once in the message is clear - keep silent and keep your job, power, prestige and your new friends who held their noses when you were in prison. The radicalism of the H-Blocks is as extinct as the lives of the hunger strikers who died trying to keep it alive.

Robert McBride over telling us to join the cops, and Gerry Adams meeting with John Stevens as a certain forerunner to sitting down with Hugh Orde. The road to the future is well signposted. Unlike the title of a Gerry Adams booklet from the 1980s, it is not leading to independence and socialism. Sinn Fein now openly advocate the disbandment of the IRA and reform of the RUC – somewhere, something went horribly wrong.




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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

30 June 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Flying the Flag
Dolours Price

The Police Process
Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA Prisoner Left "High and Dry"
Sean Mc Aughey

James Connolly and the Reconquest of Ireland
Liam O Ruairc

Venezuela 2004: Nicaragua's Contra War Revisited
Toni Solo

25 June 2004

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
Fred A. Wilcox

Irish American Relations
John Kennedy

Challenging Collusion
Anthony McIntyre

Why Can't We?
Patrick Lismore

An Ego Trip for the Middle Class
Mick Hall

Palestinian Misery in Perspective
Paulo de Rooij


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