People could be forgiven for believing that the individuals and organisations that have most to gain from the devolution of limited policing & justice powers to Britain’s Stormont administration are determined to ensure that scenario never happens.
In recent weeks, the PSNI, David Ford and the British government have all seemingly been out to prove the point that éirígí has been making all along – that no meaningful change will come about due to the Hillsborough negotiations and the establishment of a puppet justice ministry at Stormont.
First up is the PSNI, the force we are told will suddenly morph into a non-sectarian, depoliticised civic police service on the day the British government grants nominal powers to Six County politicians.
Less than 24 hours after the Hillsborough negotiations were concluded, the PSNI was out and about in west Belfast making sure that nationalists and republicans were aware that it was business as usual on the policing front. Four éirígí activists who, appropriately enough, were erecting banners highlighting the unacceptable nature of the PSNI were stopped, searched, questioned and had items of their property seized by the force on the pretext that were engaged in “terrorist” activity (Protest Against Section 44 & the PSNI).
Despite the fact that the legislation under which the activists were stopped was, in January, declared illegal by the European Court of Human Rights, the PSNI has enthusiastically continued using it and has publicly stated its intention to ignore the ruling of the court.
Then, in Craigavon on February 27, the PSNI opened fire on nationalist youths with plastic bullets (Plastic Bullet Brutality in Craigavon). Since their introduction to the Six Counties in 1972, these ‘non-lethal’ baton rounds have been directly responsible for the deaths of 17 civilians, including those of nine children.
Despite claims by then PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde in January 2007 that plastic bullets would not be used in future for the purposes of “crowd control”, the lethal weapons have now been fired at the nationalist communities of Ardoyne, the Short Strand and Craigavon in the space of a little over six months, resulting in injuries to several children.
Against this backdrop of PSNI brutality and political policing, enter David Ford, Alliance Party leader and prospective Six County justice minister, and the British government.
On Wednesday [March 3], it was revealed that Ford, in an email to the British Liberal Democrats in November last year, had described the Saville Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday massacre as “pointless” and said there was no point in any politician asking questions about its progress in the British House of Commons.
While Ford as Stormont justice minister would have no power over issues like inquiries, which remain within the remit of the London government, the presence of a unionist who has demonstrated such disdain for the victims of British state violence as a figurehead would still be of concern to many nationalists.
Tony Doherty, whose father Patrick was killed on Bloody Sunday, said Ford “should be ashamed of himself”, while Liam Wray, whose brother Jim was killed, said he would not meet the Alliance leader following the comments.
“Let me tell Mr Ford that, although I am not a great advocate of the inquiry, it certainly was not pointless – it certainly scored points,” said Wray.
“This inquiry exposed quite clearly the fraudulent forensics that damned my brother’s and others’ reputations.”
British secretary of state Shaun Woodward has, meanwhile, refused to rule out lawyers acting on behalf of the British Ministry of Defence, in effect the perpetrators of Bloody Sunday, gaining access to the Saville report before the families of the dead. In doing so, Woodward cited his government’s favourite reason for putting the interests of the British ruling class above those of the Irish people – “national security”.
Also this week, British ‘justice’ minister Paul Goggins extended the use of non-jury Diplock courts in the Six Counties until at least July 2011.
In an astounding piece of double speak, Goggins said the removal of a person’s right to be tried by a jury of their peers was “necessary for the delivery of a fair justice system”.
Goggins could have been more honest and used the ‘national security’ excuse so beloved of his colleagues.
So, while nationalist politicians are proclaiming desperately the dawn of yet another new beginning in the affairs of the Six County state, their touted future justice minister, the British government and its police force are quietly going about the work of solidifying the status quo in occupied Ireland – devolution or no devolution.
Those nationalists who believe that the Stormont system – a system designed by Britain to be operated by people like David Ford in the interests of Britain and the class which people like David Ford represent – can be engineered to bring about the end of partition and discrimination should be mindful of the words of the late British Labour Party leader Michael Foot.
When offered a place in the anti-democratic House of Lords, Foot gave the response: “I think the House of Lords ought to be abolished and I don’t think the best way to abolish it is to go there myself.”
Wise words indeed.