The 1916 Societies held a well attended and highly successful discussion in the Ashgrove Centre in Portadown on Saturday past, March 1st, to highlight the ongoing issue of political policing and the continued presence of British Military Intelligence at the heart of the policing process in the occupied six-counties. Darragh Mackin from KRW Law was joined on the panel by eirigi's Breandan MacCionnaith and Stephen Geraghty from recently formed human rights group, Justice Watch Ireland.
Much of the discussion focused on the use of a 'stop and search' policy on behalf of the PSNI as a tool of political harassment as well as continuing attempts by both the PSNI and MI5 to coerce young people in the six-counties into working as state-paid informers and how such attempts constitute a severe infringement of the right to life guaranteed under the European Convention.
Following a contribution from the floor by Dungannon republican Packy Carty it also became evident that efforts to tackle this issue of informer recruitment through the office of the Police Ombudsman, in relation to a recent attempt by uniformed PSNI Officers to recruit a young man in Dungannon in broad daylight in a crowded street, had revealed the accountability mechanisms supposedly contained in the Patten reforms to deal with such infringements were in effect non-existent and in their own words 'not the business of the Ombudsman's office'.
This is a startling contradiction of the propaganda which tells us the PSNI is now accountable locally, nothing could be further from the truth. An estimated 40 percent of the force has ties to MI5 structures and often such ties - due to the the fact MI5 is beyond the reach of the Patten reforms - effectively means the accountability structures supposedly put in place to prevent the type of abuses witnessed when the PSNI was known by its old title - the RUC - in many instance are effectively compromised.
That MI5 should have no role in policing given its sordid history - much of which has yet to be fully exposed - should be self-evident but the reality is they occupy a central role within the prism of policing in the north of Ireland today despite assurances to the contrary. This has severe implications for the political position of those apologists of the PSNI who maintain we have been in a new policing dispensation since 2007. Given the unaccountable role British Military Intelligence plays in policing then any such notion has been well and truly put to bed. It has been categorically shown to have no basis under the current policing reality.
All in all the days events demonstrated to those in attendance that policing in the north of Ireland has failed to make the promised strides forward in terms of local accountability those still condemned to live under Britain's authority in the six-counties were promised under the banner of the 'new dispensation'. Quite simply this has never materialised.
Alongside the all-pervasive role of MI5, within both policing structures and wider society itself, it goes to show that we are not as far removed from the conditions that gave rise to the myriad human rights abuses attributed to the British state during the recent armed conflict in this part of Ireland as some would have us believe. This should be a cause of concern for us all.