Posted By: May 10, 2014

Patrick Murphy. Irish News ( Belfast). Saturday, May 10, 2014

SOLVING political problems is the preserve of politicians. Building trust in
policing is a matter for all of us.
so while the political fall-out from the arrest of Gerry Adams is likely to be
resolved, to some extent, after the elections, allegations concerning the integrity
of the PSNI may take longer to settle. Sinn Féin's allegations were clear. There is
a dark side to the PSNI, containing a cabal (a group of conspirators) aimed at
damaging Sinn Fein's electoral prospects and opposing peace. Sinn Féin supporters
cheered. The DUP's Peter Robinson said it was an attempt at blackmail. The rest of
us looked on in amazement, having believed in recent years that policing here was a
model of honesty, integrity and good practice. Those who have no routine interaction
with the PSNI have no way of establishing if it has a dark side. (Some who have had
low-level dealings with the organisation would suggest that it certainly has a
not-too-bright side, but that is an issue for another day.)

However, it is unprecedented for a Deputy First Minister to assert that members of
his executive's policing organisation have the sinister desire and, remarkably, the
organisational freedom to implement political policing. In view of his position and
in the interests of ethics and civic responsibility, we can only accept his claims
at face value. (No one has argued that all policing is political - it reflects
society's social and economic power and influence. In the Republic of Ireland, for
example, prisoners are 25 times more likely to come from (and return to) deprived
areas. In the Us, nine per cent of African Americans are imprisoned but only two per
cent of whites. Instead of setting our new policing system in the context of social
justice, we just opted for the same old sectarian head count and called it

However, if we accept political policing in the narrow sectarian sense, there
appears to be some evidence supporting Sinn Féin's claims. The High Court recently
ruled that the PSNI failed to effectively police loyalist flag protests.
Alternatively, it may be due to incompetence. This week the Auditor general said
that the Policing Board's performance plan for the PSNI for 2013-2014 was unclear
and therefore unreasonable. So if a cabal exists and operates as Sinn Féin claims,
the Policing Board is seriously negligent in its governorship. It needs a rigorous
audit process to ensure that decision-making cannot occur outside the legitimate
processes. But the Board does not appear to have the slightest idea about which
model of governance, if any, it is operating. Board meetings are just Stormont with
uniforms present. To make a sensible assessment of Sinn Fein's claims, we need more
information. Did they know of the cabal's existence when policing was devolved and
thus prior to the arrest of Mr Adams? If not, were they sold a pup? If they did
know, why did they not tell the rest of us? Do they know who and how many are in the
cabal? Has the cabal influenced any other decisions? Have they reported the matter
to the Police Ombudsman? What do they propose to do next?

Most importantly, how can they support an organisation which they accuse of
political policing? On Thursday Gerry Adams wrote that we still lack "civic,
accountable, public service policing". But parts of it appear acceptable. On
Wednesday, Daithí McKay MLA wrote: "We will support the [PSNI] progressives and the
reformers." Politicians can presumably spot the difference, but how can the rest of
us tell - and how could we support part of a policing body?

If, for example, someone gives information to the PSNI on dissident republicans, how
do they know it will not finish up on the dark side and ultimately with the
(anti-peace) dissidents themselves? The SDLP has dismissed Sinn Féin's claims, so it
has a basis for continuing to support the PSNI. But should nonpolitical
organisations, such as the GAA and the Catholic Church, continue to support young
nationalists seeking to join the PSNI, even though they may be unknowingly working
for the dark side?

It appears that Sinn Féin will continue to support the PSNI. But a growing number of
others will now reserve judgment on it, pending further information. In the
meantime, we are faced not with a choice between truth and justice, but between
truth and political power. The old Stormont collapsed because it made the wrong

Until we receive clarification about the PSNI, the current Stormont is heading the
same way and no amount of political resolution will save it.