Tarlach MacDhónaill is scathing of a PSNI scam in West Belfast.
In all likelihood then, the well-groomed PSNI golden boy knew full well, that none of those arrested in his old stomping ground on September 30th, (one of whom was charged with possession of a large amount of Cocaine) had any connection to the Irish National Liberation Army.
Yet Bobby Singleton now leads the PSNI’s ‘Paramilitary Crime Task Force’ which has been granted £25 Million over the period of five years as part of the Fresh Start Agreement, such figures demand results or at least the perception of results.
In a bizarre sequence of events on Tuesday last, charges against three Belfast men of ‘Conspiracy to rob a Boojum burrito bar’ were shot out of the sky by a Judge at first hearing due to the absence of that most basic Judicial requirement called evidence. One of the three was then remanded on a separate charge of possessing Cocaine with intent to supply. £140 000 worth of Cocaine.
The Irish Republican Socialist Party then released a statement in which they stated their belief that the PSNI had concocted a ‘sham charge’ against all three men and in so doing had dragged “two unconnected individuals into the dock, alongside a person separately charged with possession of Cocaine”, all in an attempt to create the impression of a collective conspiracy to supply Class A drugs in West Belfast.
In a PSNI press statement released on the morning of the arrests, Singleton had claimed that his force had been involved in an operation ‘focused on the criminal activities of the Belfast INLA.’ It succeeded in creating banner headlines and no doubt gave large sections of the public the general impression that the Belfast INLA was somehow and somewhere involved in the supply of Class A drugs.
Such an allegation would have had an obvious negative impact on the IRSP in West Belfast. Some weeks earlier their activists had made the front page of the local Andersonstown News for smashing a Cocaine supply operation in the same Divis area in which the latest Drug find in question had occurred.
Within that article, concerned parents of several local youths (victims of a predatory West Belfast drugs ring) claimed to have turned to the IRSP for help as they had (in their own words) ‘absolutely no faith’ in the PSNI.
The IRSP clearly believe now that Bobby Singleton has attempted to smear Republican Socialism in the Divis area by wrongly implicating the INLA in the very activity that the party were claiming to successfully oppose in the absence of local support for the PSNI - Drug dealing.
Their theory holds (at the very least) as much credence as the conspiracy charges which Singleton unsuccessfully tried to put before Judge Fiona Bagnall during his now doomed operation. The pressure which his ‘Paramilitary Crime Task Force’ no doubt comes under to be seen ‘balance the books’ following months of high-profile actions against Loyalist paramilitaries, gives further weight to IRSP suggestions that in the absence of genuine Republican ‘Paramilitary Crime’, Bobby Singleton has instead taken an ‘Any Taig will do’ attitude towards the latest wave of arrests and raids on their members houses and offices. Indeed, what better Taigs to raise headlines with than suspected supporters of the INLA?
It was highly unusual, indeed unheard of for any Judge to summarily dismiss allegations of the PSNI in a remand hearing allegedly involving Anti-Good Friday Republican ‘Paramilitaries’. It may indeed be the first case of its kind since 1998.
Yet the PSNI, until now, have relied upon both a compliant judiciary and a compliant press to create and promote narratives that they wish to be accepted in the public eye, the IRSP’s rebuffing of Bobby Singleton’s grandiose claims is unlikely to attract any mainstream press interest whatsoever and the IRSP will no doubt suffer negative public perceptions as a result.
Bobby Singleton is aware of this uneven power dynamic. He (and MI5 who command the Police service of which he is a part) is also aware of the growing support which a rejuvenated IRSP are gaining in communities such as Divis and the Lower Falls, the product of a wave of local, national and international political activities which the party has recently undertaken in what can be described as a ‘Peace Process’ of their own liking.
This is not the first time that the ‘Paramilitary Crime Task Force’ has used such broad stroke tactics against the Republican Socialist Movement. During the past year in both Derry and Belfast, targets of seemingly Bona Fide Policing operations have been arrested and had their homes searched simultaneously to members of the IRSP, with following far stretched press releases enough to brand the operations in questions “Investigations into the Criminal activities of the INLA”.
A modus operandi is being firmly established as are twin aims, the undermining of a political movement which the state has hated since its inception and (Just as importantly for Bobby Singleton) the public perception of a crack down on Irish Republicans, as opposed to ‘just Loyalists’.
Had the individual arrested for possession of Class A drugs been charged and remanded alone, it would have been viewed publicly as just another drug arrest in West Belfast. Yet a few more Catholics in the back of police cars, along with the right type of press briefings, were all that were needed to make this a political publicity coup for the ‘Paramilitary Crime Task Force’.
All the usual pieces of the Jigsaw were in place for Bobby Singleton in this instance. Wth the headline already floated by the Press, all that was required was the rubber stamping of a Judge and the appearance of an INLA criminal clampdown would be complete. In most cases the PSNI can rely on such rubber stamps without question.
Unfortunately for Bobby Singleton, it appears that a feisty female Belfast Judge had other ideas and put the requirement for evidence before the prominence of one department’s financial and political agenda.
Bullshit was called on the political antics of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force, and now inevitable questions around abuses of power, abuse of public funds, possible sectarianism and blatant lies told to the West Belfast community, will increasingly come to the fore.
➽Tarlach MacDhónaill is an activist with the North Belfast IRSP.