The Blanket

'Robocop' raid seen as PSNI reversion

Eamonn McCann

What exactly did the PSNI expect? That they'd have to storm the parliament building? That the Education Minister might revert? The Minister for Health leap from an alcove after the manner of Xena the Warrior Princess and have at them with some fearsome weaponry?

Six days on, the mystery of why the police thought it necessary to send in a regiment of robocops to pick up two disks from Denis Donaldson's desk remains as deep as ever.

Whatever happened to "Morning sir, we have a search warrant here and we'd like to come in and look around..."?

Hugh Orde's apology for the "style" of the operation added to the intrigue.

He conceded on Monday that the way his officers had handled the raid had been "an error of judgment". But how had a misjudgment of such magnitude been made? And whose error was it, exactly?

Anyone who reckons that these are peripheral considerations hasn't lent an ear in nationalist districts. Virtually unanimously, the pictures from Stormont were taken as evidence that the raid was a put-up job, consciously intended to project Sinn Fein as a bunch of dangerous desperadoes.

It would be a major mistake to underestimate the number of nationalists who take a dim view of the shenanigans some Republicans seem to have been up to but who, nevertheless, are angered and dismayed by what they see as a PSNI reversion to RUC type.

The timing of the raid and of the laying of formal charges against Donaldson and others has been just as significant as the style of the operation.

You didn't have to be a Sinn Feiner, or necessarily a nationalist at all, to wonder about the fact that the Assembly and the Executive had seemed doomed anyway in circumstances in which the Ulster Unionists would have been made to shoulder much of the blame, and to conclude that what changed last weekend was not the course but the pace of events and the identity of the party likely to be left looking the culprit when the inevitable collapse comes.

Can it have been entirely a coincidence that the 15-month investigation into alleged Republican intelligence-gathering came to a head at just the right juncture for Mr. Trimble? Again, there are many non-Sinn Fein nationalists who'd take a lot of convincing.

Of course, there are, too, many unionists who wouldn't want to come within a barge-pole's length of bigotry but who take the view that all this is beside the main point, who hold that the most important truth to emerge from the weekend was that the trust they'd begun to put in Republicans has been betrayed.

"What did they want prison officers' names and addresses for if they weren't planning to start killing people again?"

When that's the question which leaps automatically to mind, you're unlikely to worry overmuch about the style or the timing of PSNI operations.

The different responses reflect the key contradiction within the Agreement itself. Although designed at a rhetorical level to bring people together, it has operated in practice to push them apart.

As it stands - insofar as it stands- it is a scheme for building and burning bridges simultaneously. It reflects no dimension of our politics or of our social being other than that defined by competing religious identities. It seeks to free us from communal hostility by locking us into separate communal corrals. It ensures that debate remains enclosed within each community and that it focuses more or less exclusively on which party or strategy will better advance the interests of one community vis-a-vis the other. It is not a recipe for reconciliation but for choreographed polarisation. The future it offers is of muffled enmity.

What or whoever precipitated it this time, the crisis in the Agreement is generated from deep within the communal politics of this place. We have to begin to think outside the ideas which box us in.

This article also appeared in the Belfast Telegraph.





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Index: Current Articles

11 Ocotber 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Just Desserts?
Anthony McIntyre


'Robocop' Raid Seen as PSNI Reversion
Eamonn McCann


A Secret History of the IRA
Niall Stanage


Immigrant Slave Labour
Liam O Ruairc


Fighting the Sharks
Sean Smyth


Academics on Independence, Part 2

Paul Fitzsimmons


Wake Up and Smell the Occupation
Sam Bahour


From the Mouths of Babes
John Chuckman


6 October 2002


That Book
Tommy McKearney


"SOS - Save Our Stormont"

Anthony McIntyre


Birds of Ireland
Brian Mór


The Right to Live
Davy Carlin


Interview with Colombian Human Rights Worker



Willpower of Revolutionaries




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