Socialist Republicans cannot accept new police force in the North of Ireland

The replacement of the old Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) with the PSNI has received the support of Sinn Fein leaders. This has opened up a heated debate among Republicans on whether this is acceptable or not. Here we provide three articles written by comrades of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, where they explain why Republican socialists cannot accept such a force.

The old and hated RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) has been replaced by the PSNI (Police Service of the North of Ireland). Admittedly there are more Catholic police officers now (about 20%), compared to ten years ago. But does this change the fundamental nature of the PSNI?

The leaders of Sinn Fein claim it does. They present it as a way of removing British control over the police force. In reality what is happening is that Sinn Fein is being called on by British imperialism to help police the Catholic community.

An indication of the real state of things is that a new MI5 centre is being built in Northern Ireland which will not be accountable to anyone in the northern statelet. It will be the direct hand of British imperialism in the North.

While Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA have been extolling the merits of entering the police committees and accepting the PSNI, the comrades of the Irish Republican Socialist Party have maintained a principled stand of opposition to the new police force, explaining that the only kind of "accountable" police would be one under a united socialist Ireland, a 32 County Socialist Workers' Republic.

Here we make available to our readers three article that appeared in The Plough, the e-mail newsletter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party.


Ireland: Policing, a bridge too far for republicans

By Willie Gallagher of the Irish Republican Socialist Party

Below we publish a speech given by Willie Gallagher of the IRSP to a large gathering of republicans in Conway Mill, Belfast on November 27. He explains why republican socialists cannot accept the new police force, the PSNI, as this would be merely accepting the domination of British capital over Ireland. The only kind of policing the workers of Ireland can accept would be within the context of a 32 county Socialist Workers' Republic.

The position of the IRSP in regards to this issue goes beyond the basics of traditional republicanism. What would not have been conceivable in the past has today become a reality. The fact that some republicans, are being asked to support and endorse the PSNI [Police Service of Northern Ireland] and the judicial system, has become a bitter pill to swallow, within both pro-GFA and anti-GFA republicanism. [GFA is the Good Friday Agreement]

For Republicans the PSNI can never be accepted as a legitimate and fully representational police service purely because they are the institution of British law in occupied Ireland. They serve the Queen and not the people. They uphold British parliamentarian law in this land. They enforce British rule in our island!! The PSNI, like any other police force in the capitalist world, protects property before people and act as an instrument of the ruling class.

To become representational of the working class of Ireland, any Police Service would be set up by the people and for the people. This can only be completed and implemented within the parameters of a 32 County Socialist Workers' Republic. Any such Police Service would be supportive of the needs of our communities, the working class; it must be biased to the neo-liberal agendas of any given country.

A genuine police force of the people would not favour the investor, the landlord, the oil magnates, the Coca Cola's, the Sellafields, Multi-National Corporations or the rich at the detriment of the poor and the working class. It would exist to uphold public order, to protect the inhabitants of this island from those who would wish to exploit them, and to protect the needs of the working class from the greed of capitalism.

What we stand for

Until we have this system in place, until we have the abolition of partition, until we have the complete removal of the British stranglehold on this island's economy; until we have the complete removal of the British militarily from this land; until the foreign monarchy imposed upon our people is removed and we are declared a 32 County Socialist Workers' Republic, then we are not in a position as republican socialists to accept anything less. Therefore the IRSP will refuse to give any kind of legitimacy to a political police force, the PSNI, or to a corrupt British judiciary. These are the fundamental basics for republican socialists.

Even if partition ended tomorrow support for an all-Ireland police force under a capitalist regime, would that be a bridge too far for republican socialists? Indeed it would!! We only have to look at how the Gardai [police force in the Republic of Ireland] behaved in the Shell to Sea protests in County Mayo and whose interests they were really protecting.

But for now let us deal with some of the realities that republicans are asked to face and accept: Support and endorsement of the PSNI; support and endorsement of a British judicial system that is anti-republican and anti-working class; support and endorsement of a prison service that brutalised republicans for years and even today refuses to recognise the political nature of republican prisoners.

We have been told by the leaderships of both Provisional Sinn Fein and the SDLP that they are currently negotiating the ending of political policing and the removal of MI5. Does anyone here really believe that the British government will capitulate and allow North of Ireland politicians, never mind republican politicians, to have full control of the policing and judicial system? The British will never allow that to happen!!

Political policing will always remain with us whilst partition exists!!!

Only recently our ex-prisoners group, Teach Na Failte, became the latest subject of political policing. Our offices in Belfast and Strabane, as well as twenty-three homes, were raided in a blaze of publicity. The TV camera crews arrived at one of the places to be raided even before the PSNI arrived themselves. They seized all materials which we needed to apply for funding and returned the same materials several weeks after the funding deadline had expired, effectively closing us down with the loss of jobs and services to ex-INLA prisoners and their families. All of the rest of the materials were returned just less than a year later with nothing of interest to the PSNI being discovered.

The raison d'etre of the PSNI, regardless of whatever cosmetic changes are affected, is primarily, the maintenance and protection of the State's interests and enforcement of British parliamentarian law in this land.

During recent years our communities have been bombarded with media hype that we need an accountable policing service, we want an accountable policing service, and we deserve an accountable policing service to combat rising crime and anti-social behaviour in our society.

Will acceptance and endorsement of the PSNI and Judicial system do that? Of course it won't!! Let's face reality here, we have never had proper policing since partition and some would say that we have never had proper policing for centuries.

Our community's fears are being exploited with a view of pushing the PSNI down our throats as the only alternative. But there are alternatives out there within our communities themselves. Our communities are capable of accepting revolutionary and innovative initiatives if they are participants in its creation and stakeholders in its success. The IRSP may not have all the answers but we do have views on interim alternatives, which is a separate debate for another day.

We recognise that people want civic policing and we have often heard recently, in defence of endorsement of the PSNI, things like "What about if Miss Bloggs gets raped, should she not go to the PSNI?" That is civil policing in which republicans have never batted an eyelid, even during the height of the conflict, when people chose to use the RUC/PSNI in cases like that. We have no problem with people using the existing police force on issues of so-called ordinary crime.

We do have a problem when that same police force uses criminals, death drivers and drug dealers as informers on republican activists.

Let us focus a bit on crime. Would acceptance and endorsement by PSF [Political Sinn Fein] and the SDLP of the PSNI and judicial system have any impact on the issues that arise from this?

We need look no further than the Free State where all the major parties, including PSF, accept the Gardai as the legitimate police force of the 26 counties. What impact has this had on the spiralling crime rate, the drug barons who are flooding working class areas with heroin, the feuding gangsters, the contract killers, the corrupt politicians and of course the criminal activities of some sections of the Guards themselves? The answer is none!

There are very few 'white collars' in Portlaoise, Maghaberry or for that matter in any of the prisons in England. The prisons are full of those from working class communities. Acceptance of a police force in itself does not necessarily equate with the successful combating of crime particularly in a capitalist society.

We should not fall victim to the simplistic analysis that acceptance and endorsement of a police force equals order and safety. This is further evidenced by the fact that the RUC and PSNI were/are accepted, supported and endorsed in Protestant and Loyalist areas yet they suffer the same, if not worse, social and economic crimes and anti-social behaviour.

We have also been told by the SDLP, the Irish and British governments and indeed from the PSNI that we now have the most accountable police force in the world. But we are still waiting for them to account for their past collusion with loyalist death squads, we are still waiting for them to account for their many crimes committed against the republican/nationalist community, the torture and false imprisonment of many republican activists and of course an account from the judiciary for their decades of perverting justice via the Diplock courts.

We have yet to have even an acknowledgement of the torture of republican prisoners in the Cages and H-Blocks. Only recently the revelations of the activities of police agent and UVF Commander Mark Haddock suggest that the PSNI are still involved in the murders of its citizens since its name change from the RUC. The PSNI won't even make public "The Stalker and Stevens reports" into collusion. MI5 won't even acknowledge there past presence in the North, never mind their murderous activities, nor have they commented on their collusion in the importation of weapons from South Africa or their prior knowledge of the murder of human rights solicitor Pat Finucanne.

Who here believes them when they say their presence in Ireland is to protect us from so-called international terrorism? Who is going to protect us from MI5 and CIA terrorism? Yet we are being asked to believe them when they say they are the most accountable police force in the Western World.

Republicans cannot solve the policing issue by becoming the police within this corrupt and unaccountable system. We should tackle the issues and not try to effect cosmetic change within a British controlled and irreformable model of policing. To recognise the PSNI as the legitimate police service of the North of Ireland is recognising Britain's right to rule a part of Ireland. We cannot bow to the pressure of making a hasty and ultimately counterproductive decision on these issues.

The endorsement of the PSNI and Judicial system has the potential to set back or completely derail any radical change. It also has the potential to assimilate republicans into the institutions we are committed to replacing. It would be a massive republican misjudgement to do so. We will only become a part of the problem not the solution.

To sum up we must keep our republican integrity intact and refuse to endorse the judicial system and the PSNI as the legitimate legal forces of the North of Ireland.

[Originally published in The Plough, Vol. 3- No 38, Tuesday 28th November 2006, E-mail newsletter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party]


Republicanism and policing - a historical context

By Sean McGowan, Belfast, of the Republican Socialist Youth Movement

The PSNI has replaced the old RUC. It has more Catholic officers than the RUC, but does this change the fundamental nature of policing in the North of Ireland? Sinn Fein claims it does. The comrades of the IRSP have a different opinion.

The term Republicanism may vary from country to country, in countries such as the USA and Turkey, Republicanism may have once played a progressive role in gaining independence and modernising the state. Now, the organisations pertaining to be Republican in these countries are responsible for wars of aggression against other nations and whose interests are firmly routed in the capitalist class. In our historical Irish nation, Republicanism represents the polar opposite of this distorted ideology. We are constantly mindful of the French revolution of 1789 and the banner of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity'. The later actions of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen act as the guide for our non-sectarian ideology - ‘Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, unite to break the connection with England'.

A recurring theme of Irish history is that of parties or individuals who claim to be Republican and who subsequently accept the legitimacy and will of the Capitalist class, not exclusively by entering the parliamentary institutions that defend the Capitalists' interests but by entering the Capitalist system with the intent of reforming and changing it [and] in the end have had to force their hand in defending the system they once sought to bring to the ground.

Republicans historically have involved themselves in policing actions, the Republican courts during the War of Independence are examples of this before partition and while the decisions of the court often served the capitalist class - these actions are understandable in their historical context through the absence of a credible police force that can be held accountable to the Irish working class.

In 1922, the British tried to sell the image of the new RUC in the North that would be one third Catholic as an attempt to subdue the Catholic population of the new northern state into accepting a foreign police force as legitimate.

Independence was by no means gained in 1921 with the partition of Ireland. This partition signalled a change, however, those who claimed to be Republicans in the Free State were still required to take an oath of allegiance to the British crown when elected to the Free State Dáil Éireann following the overthrow of the All-Ireland Dáil in 1922. Careerists do not see this as a sacrifice of principles; Republicans on the other hand, are fully aware of what followed.

De Valera founded Fianna Fáil in May of 1926 following the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis earlier that year at which he did not secure the necessary majority to end the party's policy of abstaining from the Free State parliament. Fianna Fáil, who although they did not initially take their seats, entered the parliament with the intention of bringing it down.

Fianna Fáil soon were forced to defend their new positions within the system and as such defend the very nature of the state itself. Throughout the subsequent years they used a recurrent method of tactics to secure themselves. In the 1930s the Broy Harriers were founded to police Blueshirt demonstrations. The Broy Harriers were largely recruited from the ranks of former IRA Volunteers and Prisoners of War once they outlived their usefulness in this regard they were used to extract owed land annuities from farmers and were amalgamated into the Gardaí and Special Branch.

The process Sinn Féin has embarked on is similar to that of De Valera's people. They have recruited former IRA Volunteers and Prisoners of War into various bodies that will work alongside the PSNI once Sinn Féin endorses the British physical presence here.

This process represents the acceptance of these institutions and forces of occupation, grants them legitimacy and dupes our people into accepting them. The role of Republicans and Socialists should rightfully be to highlight the inconsistencies of the Gardaí and PSNI, especially representatives elected on this platform.

We must bear in mind that the RIC, which terrorised Republicans and those sympathetic before the foundation of the Free State, was a predominantly Catholic force; attempts to recruit Catholics into the PSNI are one of the targets of the British state. Is having your front door kicked down in relation to your Republican activity fine because the officer is a Catholic? It is an issue of Catholics oppressing Catholics and the sectarian attitudes fostered by the British state to again portray itself as a saviour.

The religion of a police officer is irrelevant for there is no difference between a Protestant or Catholic police officer, but the system which he defends is what makes him a target, as with the RIC, the PSNI today remains to defend British rule and Capitalist interests in Ireland despite 20.05% of officers being Catholic, compared to 8.3% with the old RUC in 1998. Almost eight out of ten people in the six counties have confidence in the PSNI's daily ability according to a report conducted by the District Policing Partnerships.

Despite these facts being heralded as a great progress for our people, MI5 is increasing its operations in Ireland. A new surveillance centre, rumoured to be as big as Croke Park is being constructed in the north, MI5 are tracking over 1,500 individuals and have increased their staff to almost 3,000 personnel since 9/11.

The Gardái in the south are accepted by most people and people would not avoid them with the same resilience as people would in the six counties with the PSNI. Yet, this police force, much like their associates in the PSNI are a brutal police force renowned the world over for their brutality. Much like the PSNI, they attempt to derail Republican activists by harassing, intimidating and in the cases of Rónán McLoughlin and John Morris murdering them. Sinn Féin today sit on the policing committee in Dublin, this surely should be taken as an indication of what is to follow in the north.

The PSNI have acknowledged that they will continue to use child informants. They will take advantage of a child's innocence by plying them with money and gifts to inform and spy on Republican activists as they have done with the INLA in the past in Ardoyne, yet they remain absolutely silent when challenged with evidence. This is the reverse side of a process of pacification which includes the PSNI partaking in Gaelic Athletic Association events, foot patrols in areas where they couldn't enter unless by armoured car for 30 years and Sinn Féin openly already partaking in meetings to police their communities in regards to sectarian parades being forced through their areas.

Sinn Féin has claimed, following information received from "Republican sources" that their leadership is under threat from the INLA, Continuity and Real IRA. These claims, promptly rubbished by Willie Gallagher, were repeated again in the press by the end of the week and remerged again two weeks later. The merits of these claims are clear for all; Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly have both appeared in public following these alleged threats. These threats can be seen only as a ploy to unite Sinn Féin grassroots behind the leadership in the run up to joining the policing boards.

While we do not advocate Republicans surrendering their arms because of Unionist demands, for it is the very right of the Irish people to bear arms, the disastrous campaigns of the Continuity and Real IRA are bringing us in a circular motion back to border campaign politics. Republican, youth and community grassroots are growing disillusioned with the process of pacification taking place in the Provisional Republican Movement with young Provisional supporters having been visited in Derry following attacks on the PSNI. This is not unique to Derry; members of the Provisional Republican Movement have actively defended the forces of occupation in Belfast by preventing youth from venting their frustrations especially around sectarian parades being forced through their areas.

Their frustrations must be channelled into a viable political alternative to Sinn Féin that will recognise the immediate needs of the working class, distinct from career and slogan politics. The Fenian men who remained true in victory or defeat are not a romantic notion of the past but a reality for Republicans today. Our armed struggle, although justified, has long but ceased. While this signals a downward turn for Republicanism, the sacrifice of principles by joining those you once fought against militarily is not on the cards for us.

Policing is one of the very pillars on which any state rests, especially a state that requires its force to use sangers [fortified army towers], observation posts and armoured cars to carry out their duties. To join policing boards with the view of engaging them is to make their job easier in policing mostly the Catholic people of the six counties. The six county police, no matter what they may call themselves, are the armed defenders of a Unionist state. The fundamental basis of the state has not changed and will not change when Sinn Féin and the DUP enter Stormont.

Under capitalism where enough jobs and houses do not exist for all, there will always be a basis to agitate along lines of class. There will always be exploited people under this system; the working class will always need a voice. Since the ceasefires the economy of the north has expanded greatly, with foreign investment being pumped into the country, both north and south.

Our people are experiencing a period of comfort they haven't experienced in a long time but when there's an upsurge in workers' struggles, there's no doubt whose side the PSNI, Sinn Féin and the DUP will be on.

Friday, 08 December 2006

[Originally published in The Plough, Vol. 3- No 40, Tuesday, 12th December 2006, E-mail newsletter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party]


Ireland: Some Thoughts on the Policing Issue

By Gerry Ruddy of the IRSP

"It is entirely illusory to imagine that the PSNI in Northern Ireland would ever be some kind, beneficial or helping hand institution. It will always be an instrument of oppression."

In relation to the debate on policing it is useful for republicans to remember what the function of the police in a capitalist society is. It is to ensure capitalist social order. All police services throughout the world spy, use informers, infiltrate political parties, plant agents in the media, recruit academics in the universities, stitch up so called subversives and use any and other means necessary to maintain specific structures of oppression. It is entirely illusory to imagine that the PSNI in Northern Ireland would ever be some kind, beneficial or helping hand institution. It will always be an instrument of oppression.

Sinn Fein claim that, thanks to their negotiating skills they have achieved more than the SDLP, who they claimed jumped too soon on policing. Yet during the failed negotiations between Sinn Fein and the DUP in 2005, the so -called Comprehensive Agreement it was agreed that the devolution of justice could only happen if the First Minister and Deputy First Minister brought a motion to the Assembly in favour. Subsequently this was legislated for in the NI (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006. During its passage the SDLP protested about this. Sinn Fein remained silent - because they knew that they had already conceded the point in the failed Comprehensive Agreement. The DUP have said there will be no devolution of justice "in a political lifetime". So thanks to the wonderful negotiating skills of Sinn Fein the DUP have a veto over the devolution of policing.

Gerry Adams has argued that MI5 should be excluded from any contact with northern civic policing. Now this is after a period of silence in relation to the building of the second largest MI5 base outside London now being furnished in Hollywood, County Down. Remember that after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement Sinn Fein claimed success for the closing down of interrogation centres. It was the IRSP who exposed the opening of the Antrim interrogation centre subsequently used to interrogate many republicans.

MI5 are a power unto themselves. Don't forget they have information on the MP's at Westminster and they have used that information in the past to force Ministers, even Prime Ministers to resign. They have treated all requests for disclosure about their activities in the North from the 26-County Government with utter contempt. Their agents in the provisional IRA were in leadership positions for many years. They have accumulated a vast bank of knowledge about every political activist in Ireland. Does anyone with a titter of wit think they will give up that advantage, that knowledge, that power just to satisfy a minor political party in Ireland when they have defied sovereign Governments?

Any difference between the British Government and M15 are minor differences. After all both are determined to uphold the security and borders of the Union. The dominant ruling class elements in Britain have vast experience of incorporating former national liberation movements and rendering them harmless.

Therefore the central argument put forward by those following the Sinn fein line that the primary question is the political re-conquest of Ireland by the Irish people, both nationalist and unionist, from the British state is false. Any involvement at the heart of Government in the North will be by the blessings of both the British Government and MI5. Thus blessed Sin Fein with the reactionary homophobic and anti catholic DUP will administer British rule.

Devolution of power on the basis of power sharing in the North is not a step forward. Radical Republicanism will not be at the heart of government in the North but constitutional nationalism will be. There will be no accountable and community-based policing structures, which have a clean separation from British security agencies. That simply cannot happen.

(Influenced by debate in Marxmail. Thanks P.F!)

[Originally published in The Plough, Vol. 3- No 40, Tuesday, 12th December 2006, E-mail newsletter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party]