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community policing to be effective, the integrity of the agency and the
community's trust in it are critical.
Justice And Community Democracy
Jim Auld of Community Restorative Justice in a letter to the Irish News (25thMarch) attempted to refute some of the allegations levelled at his organisation by an anonymous letter writer. While it is a contradiction in terms to pursue an open debate with anonymity, Auld nevertheless felt sufficiently stung by the allegations to make a one-off response.
CRJ is indeed a conceptually valuable initiative. But the awkward joints between CRJ as a concept and how it functions in practice jut out all too conspicuously, leaving it difficult to persuade many people that the project is not a front for Sinn Fein or the Provisional IRA. The 'front' thesis is reinforced by the perceived existence of a crude nepotism whereby active republicans and their relatives obtain 'well-paid jobs' within CRJ. There are young people who are convinced that many of those in the body are also serving IRA members. In some cases the young people concerned have claimed that a number of CRJ activists, prior to involvement with the project, administered punishment beatings against youth. Some families whom I have advised to take up their grievances with CRJ have been fearful of opting for such a course because CRJ 'are just the Provies'.
While the views of those who harbour such doubts and suspicions may be rationalised away as paranoia, residual hostility from an older era or opinions sincerely but wrongly held, it is not so easy to dismiss the concrete abuses some CRJ members have taken part in. These include house pickets, not as a last resort aimed at curbing anti-social elements but as a means to politically intimidate. In one case CRJ failed to respond to a request to discuss this and wider community matters made by a pregnant victim of such political intimidation. Along with this there is clear evidence that a hush-hush rule applies when CRJ members with republican organisational affiliations are guilty of the 'misdemeanours' they seek to confront other people on.
Against that there are many young people who feel CRJ has been positive. It is a matter of public knowledge that on occasion teenagers getting hassle from some of the more dictatorial members of the IRA - who think that having spent some time in prison gives them an automatic right to behave as morality police and lord it over the young community and criminalise youth culture - have 'threatened' those members with the CRJ. It is also known that some CRJ members, Jim Auld included, are not afraid to go head to head with the IRA on the question of its torturing and maiming of young people whatever the depravity of the activities of the latter. Furthermore, CRJ has made itself available for debate in circumstances where the audience was unlikely to have been made up of people sympathetic to Sinn Fein, acquitting itself quite well in the process.
Those who seek to critique CRJ rather than merely criticise it shall bite off more than is chewable if they argue that Sinn Fein should not play any role in a body like CRJ. What relevance would such a body have if it excluded the party that picks up the lion's share of electoral support in these areas? Furthermore, Sinn Fein councillors such as Michael Ferguson have made a positive contribution to the crime debate, both publicly and privately, ridiculing the concept of punishment attacks as a means of dealing with the problem in these areas. But the party's Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky type relationship to the IRA and its punishment squads will always give rise to genuine doubts in the minds of those CRJ need to reach out to most if it is to more effectively impact. While that relationship is hardly the fault of CRJ it very much remains a problem which CRJ cannot pretend does not exist.
The task for CRJ is not to go away but to establish its credentials much more widely as a body that will function independently of any political control. The more open and community based the project is the more success it is likely to have. But being community based and democratic is not the same as being beholden to that golden circle of bureaucratised community groups and establishment politicians. Depending on the nature of the local power dynamic community law can either rule fairly or ruin foully. These communities are far from democratic despite the existence of a Community Charter. And the subversion of democratic participation is a crime that can so easily negate any well-meaning initiative against wider crime built on its foundations.
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