1916 Societies Press Release
The vast majority of people from Omagh and beyond watching the recent BBC Spotlight investigation into PSNI abuse in the town no doubt found the programme a disturbing insight into the reality of policing in both Omagh and across the north of Ireland, a reality that flies in the face of what some have attempted to present as a ‘new beginning to policing’. Images of police officers using brute violence against ordinary people – innocent bystanders out for a night’s craic – surely put pay to any notion of a new policing dispensation and a separation between the behaviour of the PSNI and its predecessor, the disgraced RUC.
But what we’re talking about here is not only a damning indictment of the PSNI themselves but also and likewise the futile, ineffective policy of ‘critical engagement’ currently pursued by the constitutional nationalist parties in Omagh and the wider six-counties; a policy that goes hand-in-hand with efforts to integrate what is in effect the RUC with a new cap and badge into our communities, a policy designed to legitimise a police force discredited long ago among nationalists due to its role in many controversial killings during the recent conflict here in the north.
At the wider level the highly-contentious issue of police collusion with loyalist death squads in notorious incidents such as the attack on Boyle’s Bar, Cappagh, the murder of Kathleen O’Hagan in Greencastle and the infamous case of human rights solicitor Pat Finucane continues to dominate discussion around policing, most notably with the damning revelation that PSNI is actively obstructing the Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire’s efforts to delve into suspicions of police involvement in the murder of up to 60 nationalists civilians and counting during the troubles. The fact it’s the existing PSNI being pursued through the courts by families seeking truth and justice rather than the old RUC itself demonstrates the lineal relationship between the two and just who the PSNI really are – the RUC under another name, with a lick of paint to conceal this reality.
All of that coupled with the type of outrageous behaviour exhibited by uniformed officers on the streets of Omagh and elsewhere, as highlighted by Spotlight, surely has to have people wondering just what has really changed here beyond a subtle repackaging to hide the glaring truth – that policing has not changed when you scratch the surface, when you separate image from what’s real. What’s real is that PSNI were shown battering young nationalists off the streets of Omagh, what’s real is that PSNI continues to obstruct justice and to cover for the criminal involvement of its predecessor in murder, what’s real is that PSNI remains alienated from a sizeable section of the community in the six-counties with its reputation in complete tatters.
And none of that takes into account the sinister role of British Military Intelligence, MI5 as it’s colloquially known, as a guiding instrument of policing and security policy in the north. Information has come to light through the internationally respected human rights agency the Committee for the Administration of Justice and others which points to a perversion of policing structures to accommodate and facilitate the type of abusive practices supposedly weeded out by the Patten reforms. Those reforms have proven unable to penetrate the deepest levels of policing in the six-counties, in the type of grey areas where the most serious of human rights abuses have arisen in the past.
There are frightening suggestions that up to a third of serving PSNI officers may be subject to the authority and tactical command of British Intelligence, a damning indictment of accountability protocols supposedly introduced by Patten – and by extension the entire set of current policing arrangements themselves – given that intelligence-led police operations and activities are not subject to scrutiny by either the Police Ombudsman’s office, by the Policing Board, not even by the British government at Westminster itself. Any meaningful shifts in policing at a community-focused level must be considered with this gross contradiction in mind and off-set against the serious issues this poses policing arrangements in the north.
This is a matter of the utmost concern given the reprehensible, wretched history of both MI5 and the police in this part of Ireland when granted such latitude on previous occasion, a history we know to be steeped in murder. Where once the charge of a ‘force within a force’ was levelled at policing we now have a ‘force outside a force’. We now have a situation where in critical matters of policing the same deplorable abuses meted out in the past remain beyond oversight and protected from exposure and public accountability despite claims of a new era in policing. Incredibly, despite the protestations of PSNI’s apologists – among them the constitutional nationalist parties in the north – the situation vis-a-vis accountability in such critical areas is actually worse now than it was before, there is even less control given the increased role granted to MI5 in ‘sensitive areas’.
The premise then that the PSNI would be held to account – would have manners put on them as we were told at the time – has been shown to be an unobtainable and unrealistic pipe-dream. In any walk of life anyone striking another with a closed fist without justifiable recourse to self-defence would be dismissed from their job with immediate effect yet that is exactly what serving PSNI officers were caught doing on CCTV in Omagh. The fact that PSNI officers can do so with impunity and remain in their jobs demonstrates not only that the violent and sectarian impulse systemic to the RUC remains an inherent feature of its successor force the PSNI but also that the mechanisms supposedly for ensuring accountability in the event of such happenings are wholly ineffective and not worth the paper they’re written on.
Given all these unseemly revelations surely it’s time for those in positions of political authority to revisit their failed policy on policing. We can see from the efforts to obstruct and undermine legitimate inquiries into the dark past of the RUC and it’s role in the vicious war here that the PSNI is merely the RUC in revised form and will continue to be so under the existing, flawed policing dispensation, a dispensation unworthy of support from those who suffered so grievously at the hands of these thugs down through the years.
The fact that they still do – as can clearly be seen from events in Omagh covered by the Spotlight documentary – lends all the more credence to the notion that policing in its current format is fundamentally flawed and requires root and branch reform as opposed to the type of limited, cosmetic change we’ve seen since the Patten recommendations; changes designed to garner support for a discredited police force weighed down by accusations of brutality, collusion and indeed murder rather than to provide a genuine new beginning following decades of corrupt, violent and abusive policing practices.
Will we ever see such? The way things are going its difficult to envisage and thus the support of those who matter, the ordinary 5’8″ on the street, continues to be withheld by many, many nationalists. All things considered is it really any wonder? The PSNI has little if any credibility as an impartial police force and bit-by-bit is being exposed for the same tool of Britain’s oppressive presence here in the six-counties that it has always been. Such a situation is likely to continue until Britain withdraws from Ireland but in the meantime the least we should expect from political representatives here is that they do not give succor and legitimacy to this discredited, loathsome organisation. It’s high time this situation was reviewed as a matter of public interest by those concerned because legitimising Britain’s paramilitary police force in the hope it can be changed from within is clearly beyond the limits of what’s possible.