More Irish than the Irish themselves?

On another matter entirely, the Indo are leading with a story today about immigrants and social welfare fraud.

While I'm not denying that this exists, the Indo's coverage of crimes committed by foreign nationals has become disgracefully tabloidesque. For some reason, the nationality of the (alleged) criminal always merits a place in the headline when the person is not Irish. But you hardly ever see headlines like "Corkonians caught in PPS scam", "Clondalkin native jailed for drug smuggling", "Hunt for Kerryman on fatal assault indictment". When a suspect is Irish, as most of them are, that fact isn't seen to be worth mentioning, and the result is that a person reading the paper is subtly fed the idea that foreigners are responsible for all the crime in this country.

The funny thing about this article is of course that Irish people have been taking liberties with the social welfare system for decades. (I'm not necessarily condemning them for this, because the levels of social welfare in this state are quite low - far lower than they are in most European countries, and frequently not enough to live on - especially in the case of families.) There are parts of this city, not terribly far from where I live, where it's probably the rule rather than the exception. But I don't recall the Indo running any huge headline stories on that lately.

Indeed, shouldn't this be viewed in the context of the recent brouhaha sparked by Enda Kenny's call for immigrants to adapt to Irish society? Enda said that immigrants need to "integrate into our communities" and "respect our cultural traditions".

If the Indo's story is true, perhaps they're actually doing a better job of that than we know.

Should I stay or should I go?

Media reports on the Ard Fheis have made much of the lack of a walkout or a visible split in the ranks. And it's true that in that regard, the fallout has been less than it probably could have been. But it's also true that a lot of people had already left in the months immediately preceding - and I suspect a sizeable number of others are considering their options now, and may still vote with their feet.

I've thought about it too but, as deeply unhappy as I am with the decision taken yesterday, I don't think that leaving is the answer. For starters, where would I go? None of the alternative organisations seems to have a notion of how their idealised vision of a 32-county republic could actually be brought into existence. Without exception, their strategies all rest on the presumption that if only their voices could be heard, they could persuade the Irish people to rise up and demand the republic.

That's just not going to happen.

The SF strategy has its faults, obviously. But at the very least it's more plausible given that it rests on the persuasion of a far smaller number of people: enough in the North to tip the nationalist ratio over 50%, and/or enough in the South to put us in government.

And if all the other organisations are out, that leaves only the option of becoming a non-aligned republican, which seems entirely pointless to me. Most of the people I know who've gone down that route end up doing little more than posting bitter rants about their former comrades on internet message boards. And often ultimately emigrating.

There's also damage limitation to consider. The enemies of republicanism are obviously delighted that we've signed up to colonial policing; they'd be even more delighted to see us decimate ourselves in the process. I don't want them to have that satisfaction.

And finally, leaving SF would mean not only turning my back on their policing policy, but on everything else that they're doing. I think most of the rest of what they're doing is good, and I still want to be part of it.

Now I know that some people who have recently left, or are considering leaving, read this blog, and I know they're probably thinking: yes, yes, yes, BUT. It's a matter of principle. How can I remain in this party after it's turned its back on such a key principle? And I understand that view, I really do. But at the same time - and at the risk of causing great offence, for which I do apologise and offer the usual disclaimers - I can't help thinking that there's something a little bit egotistical about it. It seems to me to be overly concerned with the thought that MY image, MY republican credentials are at stake if I stay here. Yes, I'd like to be able to look in the mirror and say without hesitation that I had remained true to all my principles, and no, I can't quite do that at the moment - but I don't see what practical benefit would derive from leaving the party on that basis. I don't see how it would help end partition and achieve the republic that we all want.

The party has made its decision and we're stuck with it, so we can only make the best of it that we can. I'm going to do this by continuing in my specific role within the party, where I do think we're achieving something, and by using whatever limited influence I have to try to prevent further bad decisions being made.

But who knows. I could still change my mind later.

My thoughts on tomorrow's Ard Fheis

Now that the internal debate is all but over, I think it's an appropriate time for me to go into the precise reasons why I oppose going on the policing boards.

The first and most obvious reason is ideological. Republicanism's primary raison d'etre at this time is (supposed to be) to oppose the Six County statelet. Signing up to an armed force which exists to defend that statelet is simply incompatible with that purpose. This is not a case of infiltrating to destroy; we are endorsing that armed force. I cannot get my head around this.

Now even having said that, I am a pragmatist and if it could be demonstrated to me that in doing this we would actually be hastening the demise of the statelet, I could accept it, nose held and all. But that hasn't been demonstrated to me. I do not see any way that this will actually advance the process of reunification. It may advance the restoration of the Executive but, as I've said previously, I think that's essentially irrelevant anyway. Bluntly, I just don't see the Executive as a prize worth sacrificing any more of our integrity for. And I have serious doubts as to whether that "prize" will be forthcoming as a result of this decision anyway; I think it's far more likely that the DUP will continue to move the goalposts... and that the governments will continue to let them get away with it. I just hope that at some point we find the sense to refuse to do so.

Policing supporters ask what the alternative is. Well, I don't know. But I don't think we've really explored the question. The choice has always been put to us as if it was either black or white and I just don't think that's the case. It seems to me that a lot of the 'yes' arguments are the same ones that the SDLP have been making for years. And I'm not convinced that there have been enough changes in the PSNI to justify the contention that we aren't making the same mistake they did and jumping too soon.

I also find that the attempts to portray this move as a "strategic initiative" fall flat. An initiative, by definition, cannot be a move that you make when you're under pressure to make that move - as we clearly are. I do not for one moment believe that we would be doing this if the governments had not made it clear to us that we have to, if we want "progress".

So far all those reasons, I voted for my cumann to oppose the motion. This position was adopted unanimously and as a delegate to the Ard Fheis tomorrow I will be voting No.

Now, having said all that, I want to say something else.

The debate that has gone on within the party has been described (mainly by our opponents within the broader republican movement, but also by some party members or new ex-members) as a sham debate. It has been said that tomorrow's result is a foregone conclusion and that no real dissent within the party has taken place.

I don't know about the rest of the country, but that's a load of bollox as far as Dublin is concerned.

I've attended about half a dozen meetings (apart from my cumann meetings) on the subject. At all occasions, debate has been robust and thorough. The leadership figures present have listened attentively and responded thoroughly and respectfully to all concerns raised. Obviously, their responses weren't sufficient to allay my objections, but at no time did I feel that those objections were just ignored or dismissed.

The leadership will win the motion tomorrow for the simple reason that they have managed to convince the majority of the membership that this is the right move. Now people can decide for themselves whether that's because the members are "sheep", or because their arguments were framed more persuasively than the opposition's were, or whatever. But the fact is that people have been given the opportunity to make up their minds and they have done so freely. The leadership have won the debate fair and square - I don't have to agree with them to acknowledge that.

I think this is a bad move for the party. I think it will come back to bite us on the arse. I hope I'm proven wrong. But I can't say that I have any real complaints about the way it's been handled.

I doubt that there is any other party in this country that would have dealt with such a crucial internal matter in such a creditable way.

The collusion report

If you don't have time to read all 162 pages of the report into police collusion with the UVF in the North, the following extract (reproduced verbatim) should give you the flavour.

The report finds evidence of collusion in the following areas:

• The failure to arrest informants for crimes to which those informants had allegedly confessed, or to treat such informants as suspects for crime;
• By creating interview notes which were deliberately misleading; by failing to record and maintain original interview notes and by failing to record notes of meetings with informants;
• The failure to deal properly with information received from informants, so that informants were able to avoid investigation and detection for crime;
• By arresting informants suspected of murder then subjecting them to lengthy sham interviews by their own handlers at which they were not challenged and then releasing them on the authorisation of the handler;
• By not recording in investigation papers the fact that an informant was suspected of a crime despite the fact that he had been arrested and interviewed for that crime;
• By failing to take steps to hinder an attempted bombing by the establishment of an operation either to disrupt or arrest the alleged perpetrators whose names were known to Special Branch;
• By giving instructions to junior officers that records should not be completed, and that there should be no record of the incident concerned;
• By ensuring the absence of any official record linking a Special Branch informant to the possession of explosives which may, and were thought, according to private police records, to have been used in a particular crime;
• By withholding information from CID that the UVF had sanctioned an attack;
• By concealing from CID intelligence that named persons, including an informant or informants, had been involved in particular crimes;
• By withholding information about the location to which a group of murder suspects had allegedly fled after a murder;
• By the concealment on a number of occasions of intelligence indicating that up to three informants had been engaged together in murders and a particular crime or crimes;
• By routinely destroying all Tasking and Co-ordinating Group original documentary records so as to conceal an informant’s involvement in crime;
• By destroying or losing forensic exhibits such as metal bars and tape lifts;
• By not requiring appropriate forensic analysis to be carried out on items submitted to the Forensic Science Service Laboratory;
• by blocking the searches of a police informant’s home and of another location, including an alleged UVF arms dump;
• By not questioning informants about their activities and continuing to employ informants without risk assessing their continued use as informants;
• By finding munitions at an informant’s home and releasing him without charge;
• By not informing local police of an anticipated attack, and not taking any action to prevent the attack;
• By not using the available evidence and intelligence to detect a crime and to link the investigation of crimes in which an informant was a suspect;
• By some Special Branch officers deliberately disregarding a very significant amount of intelligence about informant involvement in drug dealing in Larne, and North Belfast and in punishment attacks linked to drug dealing from 1994 onwards;
• By continuing to employ as informants people suspected of involvement in the most serious crime without assessing the attendant risks or their suitability as informants;
• By not acting on witness and other evidence received in particular crimes when the suspect was an informant;
• By not considering or attempting to conduct identification processes when there was particular evidence from witnesses about a criminal’s appearance;
• By providing at least four misleading and inaccurate confidential documents for possible consideration by the court in relation to four separate incidents and the cases resulting from them, where those documents had the effect of protecting an informant;
• By not informing the Director of Public Prosecutions that an informant was a suspect in a crime in respect of which an investigation file was submitted to the Director;
• By their failure to maintain the record of intelligence which was the basis for applications for extensions of time in detention to the Secretary of State;
• By withholding intelligence from police colleagues including the names of alleged suspects which could have been used to attempt to prevent and to detect crime;
• By the practice of Special Branch not using and following the practice of authorisation of participating informants;
• By completing false and misleading authorisations and reviews of informants for the purposes of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act;
• By cancelling the wanted status of murder suspects “because of lack of resources” and doing nothing further about these suspects;
• This investigation has examined the activities of police officers responsible for informants over a period of twelve years. On only one occasion have PSNI provided any document indicative of consideration of the termination of the relationship which Special Branch had with any of these informants, despite the extent of the alleged involvement of these informants in the most serious of crimes.

For years and years republicans have said this was going on and have been told we were at best paranoid, at worst outright lying; that there might (might!) be the odd "bad apple" in the RUC; that there was no more than the occasional bended rule and that even that was probably excusable given what the police were up against. There's all that out the window now. And this report only covers collusion with the Belfast UVF; imagine how much more it could have found with a wider remit.

I wonder if the report will get the widespread coverage within Britain that it merits, and that the Cory and Barron reports never did. Somehow I doubt it.

More on policing

My good friend and comrade Justin Moran submitted a letter to An Phoblacht which did not appear in this week's edition (although another letter, expressing more or less the same sentiments, was printed). I think it makes some important points so, with Justin's permission, I'm posting it here.

A chara,

The claim, in last week’s editorial, that supporting the Ard Chomhairle’s motion on policing will bring about ‘…further change, maximise our political impact and ensure that the policing model we have seen in the Six Counties for decades is consigned to the past’ indicates that the party’s paper has decided what the ‘right’ decision
should be before the party has.

Contrary to the editorial, many republicans see Sinn Féin taking seats on the Policing Boards as a co-option of republicans to the protection of the Six County state. The role of any police service is to protect the state and its interests. In this context, to maintain partition.

Sinn Féin members on Policing Boards would be partly responsible for, but not in charge of, an armed paramilitary police force led by British officers and enforcing British law in Ireland. The carrot of a Sinn Féin Justice Minister ‘some day’ has been replaced with the notion suggested over Christmas that the Justice ministries would be split between the SDLP and the UUP.

Also replaced was the party’s agreed Ard Fheis position, ironically the product of an Ard Chomhairle motion, that an Ard Fheis would only be called when a date for devolution of powers had been set and agreed to by the DUP, the structures of the administration of those powers agreed, and the enactment of British legislation.

In the absence of any of this, the Ard Chomhairle has overturned the Ard Fheis position and called an Extraordinary Ard Fheis that, at time of writing, the leadership no longer seems sure on because the DUP hasn’t reacted positively enough.

Is mise le meas,

Justin Moran
Dublin 8

On a related note, I see that our Mulhuddart councillor Felix Gallagher has once again been prevented from properly engaging with his local policing committee thanks to the shameless partisanship of his fellow councillors in Labour and Fine Gael. The hypocrisy is astounding: on the one hand, these muppets will fall all over themselves to insist that Sinn Féin must engage with the police system in the Six Counties and, on the other, they're doing everything they can to keep us out of the system here.

The failures of affordable housing - part 2

The Indo has recently run two articles (free registration required) which should strike fear in the heart of anyone on the Dublin City Council affordable housing list. They're certainly striking fear in me.

According to these articles, workers on the average industrial wage or thereabouts are finding themselves unable to avail of affordable housing because ... they can't afford it.

I wrote about this previously. According to the head of the Council's housing section, quoted in that post, the fault in this matter lies with us (the applicants) for reaching beyond our means. But the Council's own website states that affordable housing

"is aimed at first time purchasers who have low to middle income and who would otherwise find it difficult to compete in the current private property market"

Now obviously there's going to have to be a minimum cut-off point somewhere. But the phrase "low to middle income" clearly indicates that that cut-off point is supposed to be somewhere below the middle. And what on earth could "the middle" be, if not the average industrial wage?

If workers on an average wage cannot afford "affordable housing" then it is not affordable. By definition. By the Council's own definition.

How much clearer could it be?

On the policing stuff

If anyone's wondering why I haven't commented on recent events, it's because I feel that I have already made my views clear, and anything further I might have to say should be reserved for the internal debate.

Once that debate is over (and, I expect, from my perspective lost), rest assured I will have plenty more to say.
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