Normality, policing and Northern Ireland May 6, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
British secretary of state has confirmed this morning that the communication lines were on fire between here and Dublin and London during the detention-she made 5 calls to Eamonn Gilmore!
This supports my analysis. So much for a normal police matter!!!!
Of course there is an absurdity to the idea that the North has anything approaching ‘normal’ policing.
But for those still fond of the idea it belies the reports that were issuing from the media at the weekend. For example, the Sunday Business Post:
Sources confirmed that Sinn Fein had been in regular contact with government officials in Dublin, though political leaders in the coalition maintained publicly that the arrest was a policing matter, not a political one.
Note that ‘publicly’. And what of this?
It is believed that Kenny has not discussed the matter with Cameron, while political sources in Dublin said that while there had been contact with the Northern parties by officials, political leaders here had not become involved. ”There is no role for us, said one senior source.
Senior sources in both Fine Gael and Labour confirmed the government’s approach.
But now we learn that if not quite a ‘role’ there was communication. Perhaps that was inevitable. That doesn’t imply intervention. But it is not what would take place in a ‘normal’ context.
But then this isn’t a ‘normal’ context.
The flag ‘protests’ alone, the attacks on Alliance, and the PSNI response to both demonstrates that quite perfectly. One doesn’t, by the way, then have to see the PSNI (or not all of it) entirely at fault for that response. The environment is one where policing – indeed the issue of consent – is imposed cautiously as the PSNI attempts to determine what and where it is possible for it to be imposed. But it is one where there has been a sapping of the political will across recent years.
This, again, from the SBP:
Sinn Fein sources were highly critical of the Dublin government hands-off approach, not just to the Adams detention, but to broader Northern issues in recent years.
”This would never have happened under Balir and Ahern, said one senior Sinn Fein source. ”Republicans are very frustrated with the Dublin government.
And it is difficult to disagree with that broad assessment.
But it is the, essential, lip service to this idea of normality that has been also most irritating in the last week, as if the situation in Northern Ireland is analogous to that found in Dublin or London. It is not that it cannot at some point be so – though what passes for normality in this period is difficult to be sure about.
And what of this? From Gerry Moriarty in yesterday’s Irish Times:
.. right now a cushioned landing is what Northern Ireland needed.
Had Adams been charged in connection with the 1972 murder of Jean McConville the political temperature, already at a dangerously high level, would have been pushed beyond boiling point. Keeping the lid on republican anger would have been difficult.
Had Adams been freed unconditionally, the firing of the “political policing” charges would have switched direction and started blasting from the unionist and loyalist side – rather than from republicans as has been the case for the guts of the past week.
Serious questions would have been asked, such as how come the Public Prosecution Service isn’t even going to be asked to determine is there a judicial case that could hold up against the Louth TD.
I find this line of argument fairly bizarre from a paper which over the last few days was arguing that all was well with the police investigation (that would be Noel Whelan and Stephen Collins amongst others). If all is well with policing then all is well with policing and a decision to dismiss an individual in a case is as valid as questioning them in the first place. But of course what it is is an implicit recognition of what has been noted above – that the terrain upon which this is contested is not at all ‘normal’.
Meanwhile some of us found the idea that there was a contradiction between SF critiques of the Garda and the PSNI, the latter coming out much more favourably, some months ago and current critiques of the PSNI to be indicative of an appalling lack of understanding of the differing contexts. As noted previously, it is possible to see the PSNI as having structural aspects that are superior to the Garda without believing that it is entirely optimal or not itself inflected by aspects of the conflict. How could it be otherwise?
What does this mean? It certainly doesn’t mean that the past should be forgotten, but what it does mean is that a decision has to be taken at the political and societal level both within the North, and in Britain and Ireland more broadly. That is whether to proceed with an approach that will uncover the truth of what happened in a myriad of instances or to let that drift into the past, uncovered and unacknowledged.
Perhaps that decision was taken already, and implicitly so, at Christmas during the Haas talks, that for all the stuff about reconciliation and truth neither is going to be achieved, that the status quo – a sort of ignoring that past for the most part and with no actions taken, at least for the most part – will remain.
That seems unsatisfactory, in the extreme. But perhaps that is the very best that can be hoped for, at least at this juncture.
Perhaps the events of this last week and weekend will concentrate minds. But one would have to think not. The fracture lines between political and ‘constitutional’ unionism and nationalism and republicanism remain very very close to the surface, those beyond those areas even more so. Without suggesting for a moment that Northern Ireland would tip back to open conflict it seems to me that proceeding cautiously and slowly is the only serious way forward, whether in relation to policing or politics as a whole.