They’re Back

When Sinn Fein decided to abandon its long standing opposition to British policing in the North and give its support to the PSNI, the party claimed that political policing if not already a thing of the past would soon be consigned to the history books. Even the dumbest, whatever their political abode, must now see the paucity of that claim.

Already in some spheres political policing has made its presence felt more intensely than at any point during the days when the PSNI went under the name RUC. The PSNI now has powers of 28 day detention, 4 times as long as it had in its RUC guise. Today in the Irish News it is reported that ‘a purpose built “supergrass” unit is to be constructed inside Maghaberry Prison.’

Over the decades when people detained in British police holding centres were having their human rights abused Sinn Fein could routinely be found protesting outside those centres. The same when the supergrass system was in full flow; Sinn Fein would campaign on the grounds that the system relied on the word of “paid perjurers.” Now because of the bind the party is in, issuing public statements or promising to take it up with their colleagues in the British government is as far as it feels able to go. Protests are too much in your face and in any event would only beg the question of how Sinn Fein ever ended up supporting a police force that can now hold people in its custody for longer than any other force in the democratic world and then use the most tainted evidence available to convict them – that of alleged accomplices.

With Pastor Martin Niemöller’s words echoing from a distant past ringing in our minds the party may yet face the embarrassment of some of its own people, guilty or not, being held for 28 days before being jailed on the evidence of a “supergrass” if the PSNI decide to pursue the Northern Bank robbery investigation. There is absolutely nothing to stop them. Because Sinn Fein said nothing when it happened to others, there might be no one left to say anything when it happens to them.

Many Sinn Fein members underwent interrogation during the Provisional IRA’s own participation in the conflict. Some of them also spent considerable time in prison as the result of “paid perjurer” evidence. It must seem strange to those in the party who have still, in administrative terms at least, not yet gone over to the British body and soul to view the prolonged interrogations that are taken place in Antrim Barracks and the construction of the new Maghaberry unit. Those that did, many years back, sit silent facing down their interrogators must today have a natural sympathy with those in custody and an equally natural antipathy towards the police interrogators. Yet they must publicly stand in solidarity with the raucous police not the silent detainee, limply arguing for detention periods to be pulled back to the old British span of 7 days rather than the current 28. It is hardly a radical position for a party that claims to have achieved major progress in the area of policing to be arguing. Yet it is the logic of where the party finds itself. It is where the DUP has forced it to go.

At the same time there has not been the slightest reciprocation from the DUP. Not one eyebrow raised about police procedure; the opposite is true. Human Rights commissioner Monica McWilliams was condemned by DUP members for visiting the interrogation centre to check on the human rights status of the detained. It shows the power disparity in what is inanely described as a power sharing arrangement.

The extent of the problem is rapidly becoming clear. The British state is increasing its erosion of civil liberties for Irish citizens. As has been said of Argentina, while the state has formally rejected terror it has preserved its tools. Moreover, whereas previously it was faced by an opposition that defined itself as the voice of principled leadership, it no longer has that restraining mechanism breathing down its neck. Sinn Fein may, as it has done in the case of 28 day detention, raise a feeble voice against the use of paid perjurers. But the British will relax certain in the knowledge that the party has no choice but to support those who pay the perjurers.


  1. A great article and one which exposes that the tools of British terror and imperialism are still very much in existeance in the North.

    Maybe someday, we'll see the rising of the moon comrade.

  2. A non-rhetorical question for you: at this stage in the game, how many Republicans still support SF? For those that still do, why?

    The larger question... on one side of the Republican movement are the so-called "dissidents" who obviously are quite serious about their goals but stand little realistic chance of success, lack widespread popular support, aren't particularly concerned about avoiding civilian casualties and even seek to justify targeting civilians who have only a very tenuous connection to the British state, and will only probably cause needless death and suffering as they play the patriot game; on the other side is SF who seems to have largely abandoned everything recognizably Republican and made supporting the status quo its newfound mission... will all this floundering produce a refocused movement as new coalitions form and old ones fade or is all this trying to predict the wholly unpredictable?

  3. I'd be interested in a little more detail on your views. For example, do you think the reforms of informer use under Orde have improved the situation? Or whether you would prefer intelligence-led anti-terrorism operations (against loyalists and dissidents) to police searches and arrests, even possible army deployment. A positive view of how the forces of order (be they British or Irish in the event of reunification) should respond to those who seek to use violence to pursue their aims.

    I do completely agree with you on 28 days. I do wonder if more couldn't be done with the information already obtained, respecting human rights, to stop the threat of violence.

    It seems to me, though, that effective and human-rights compliant use of informers is an alternative to Army presence, which is something we definitely do not need, as underlined by soldiers' response to the Antrim murders:

  4. They never went away y'know!

    Good article, as someone affected by the super dupergrass trials of the 80's I can't understand the silence of SF, and as you said when they come knocking on their doors who will answer for them?

  5. The obvious, stated well again, Mackers. I remember Mícheál Ó Ríordáin once said 'When I hear people attacking Stalin, I feel the need to defend him, and when I hear people defending him, I feel the need to attack him'. I'm a wee bit like that with Sinn Féin myself... although on the particular point of your article, it's one area they haven't a leg to stand on really.

  6. I would ask why are people who believe in civil liberties not being mobilised to oppose these laws. Surely as broad a front as possible is required on this issue if the legeslation is to be repealed.

    have you any idea of the positon being taken by civil liberties groups throughout the island?

  7. Just been catching up Anthony, theres some bl**dy brilliant reading on this blog..... One of the best on the internet!

  8. Present legislation in policing is peculiar in the new political dispensation. Longer holding times and the move towards supergrass trials etc make me wonder what really makes the minds in authority tick. In todays paper the poor old Ghurkha's took a kick up the rear in jolly old Blighty fashion. They can settle in the UK but only if they served 20 yrs in the regiment..15 yrs being the legal ceiling permitted on's not actually possible..go for it Perfideous!! It seems to be a mental condition for the brits to baulk at or deny all logic. The joy of the antagonist??
    The dust seems to have settled on recent events and they have if nothing else exposed SF and Mc Guinness in particular in a true light..Adams speach about the RUC before Sean Downes was murdered springs to mind. So the deaths in Antrim and Craigavon served simply to highlight exactly where we all stand. Mr Duffy has once again had his 15 minutes of fame..[or should that be 2 years of internment?] The PSNI/RUC have been shown to be every bit the Stazi they always were but now with better/worse legal perameters to indulge themselves within.
    Also in todays paper a loyalist taxi business owner had a claim for damages refused and an ex Republicans widow has lodged a fresh claim after she was refused compensation when he was beaten to death. Both refusals were based on the victims prior 'criminal' record. The PSNI/RUC [the peeler in Craigavon was in both without changing address or shift schedule] has a very sinister record. Plastic bullets, paid perjurers, shoot to kill, verbal statement evidence, missing/non existent evidence and the Branch and FRU etc with their dirty tricks and informer assisted defamation and murder of inconvenient persons. Are we all to accept that this force with a name change is now whiter than the driven snow but those involved in different groupings in the troubles are forever non citizens??
    I watched a video on you tube about how the RUC were the thin line between mayhem in Ulster for thirty years. Before my Philippina wife was overcome with gratitude and tearful admiration I put a video on of the plastic bullets victims and her shock at the ages of the victims was severe! The Craigavon peeler was around then..but sure they were only doing their jobs and paying a mortgage. Holding the thin line. They knew the force they were joining, as the saying goes " would you suck a monkey's doo-da for Ulster?"...Well would you Martin?? Question answered from the horses own mouth.
    Mc Guinness got a death threat..the only thing wrong with that is they are rarely carried out-maybe better if he hadn't recieved one, he'll be relaxed now. All I can say is in the event he was executed-would any Republican really care? Unlike the hunger strikers, his is a funeral I will not be going to!

  9. NCM, impossible to call. There must be some but why they support the party is anybody’s guess. As you say they seem to ‘have largely abandoned everything recognizably Republican and made supporting the status quo its newfound mission.’ It happened with the Sticks; Fianna Fail before them. When they gave up the republican project some of those who remained were still republican but over time it becomes an impossible position to maintain and leads to a state of self denial. Whenever I talk to those who have left in recent times and ask how they held on so long they mostly say group loyalty or the pressure to conform.

    As for the second part of your question I don’t see a new movement on the scale of the Provisionals emerging. What is coming out now has arrived too late to make any difference either among the military or non-military varieties of republicans. They will pose some problems and raise some issues but I don’t see it being anything other than that.

  10. One might ask, whatever happened to the peace dividend, what you are getting in the North is all the instruments of the secret state are again being put in place, new MI5 building, extension to 28 days, super grass prison accommodation, etc, although this time around there is no mass opposition to them, thus whilst the nationalist community reap no bounty, the UK state is payed out again and again.

    I cannot see any justifiable reason for a super grass wing/whatever, beyond making there lives more reasonable and to accommodate the security services who wish to have them on tap.

    Transfer the touts to a prison elsewhere in the UK that has accommodation for these sad human beings.

    As with many other issues of late, there is a hundred and one ways that SF could remain within the Stormont administration and oppose this measure publicly, but they choose not to.

    Why not, is the question that needs to be asked, for the DUP have challenged UK government policy without sanction. Why is SF so unwilling to do so?

  11. Damian, in relation to the use of accomplice evidence I don’t see how reforms under Orde can have improved the situation. The cops never turn down an opportunity so reforms would need to take place in the political sphere, and not within the policing sphere, that would limit the police use of such people rather than enable it. Accomplice evidence is so tainted by its self serving nature that it is worthless. Some of what accomplices testify has to be true but how much? And how is the matter decided? The reputation of the NI judiciary was dragged through the muck because of their own complicity in the use of supergrasses.

    The ‘human rights compliant use of informers’ as you describe it cannot be judged as some trade off between itself and the use of the military. It either has merits or it does not without further reference to the military. Every police force in the world uses informers for the provision of information and that is not going to change in the North whatever I might think about it. But using an accomplice for information and using one for evidence are qualitatively different procedures.

    What should the police do when confronted with the armed activities of republicans? A British minister once asked me how I thought armed republicans could be confronted. I looked at him as if he had two heads and told him it was not my place to tell him how to defeat republicans armed or otherwise. I merely said something to the effect that ‘if you stop mistreating their prisoners maybe they might come to hate you less.’ Coming from the stable that I do I will not be found advising the police on how to confront republicanism. It is a bridge too far. It places those that do in the British state camp having first hoisted them out of the republican camp. I will forever have conscientious reasons for disliking informers and not supporting the police. And there are no circumstances where republicans, even if I am on the opposite end of the spectrum from them in terms of their methods, are victims of informers that I will be found supporting the informers. I suppose in those circumstances I would end up with a sort of plague on both houses attitude.

    In democratic terms it cannot be denied that the police are democratically mandated to operate against armed republicans in a way that armed republicans are not democratically mandated to operate against the police. But one of the attributes of a democratic system, distinguishing it from a totalitarian one, is that we are not bound to it in terms of what we think. Democratic consent means to consent or not to consent. That I do not consent to the police does not mean I am behaving any less democratically; merely opting for a democratic choice available to me under a democratic system. And without democratic dissenting voices society is mush less democratic.

  12. I think the well known quote from the 1964 US Supreme Court case brought regarding what is and what is not pornography would apply here. I cannot define terrorism whether state sponsored or by any other N.G.O. or individual but I know it when I see it!

  13. Sean Mor, Mícheál Ó Ríordáin as provided us with as good a definition of ambivalence as I have come across.

    Starry Plough, there has been some civil liberties opposition in the North. But the civil liberties lobby alone cannot be expected to handle this. At the end of the day all it can do is apply pressure or persuasion to the politicians. The issue is a major one and should not have to wait on the civil liberties lobby to move.

    Sophie, thanks but you make me blush!

    Larry, I never see those other people you sent your regards to. I think it is most positive that these death threats are never carried out. I think the whole discourse against McGuinness is strident and dangerous.

    Mick, so well put. It seriously exposes the myth of the party being brilliant negotiators. And it is pointless blaming it on the armed republicans. The end of political policing was supposed to have been achieved regardless of armed republicans and Sinn Fein were warned of the dangers they faced on the issue before they signed up.

    Ligoneil53 - instinct can often be a useful guide.

  14. I'm not asking for people to wait for the civil liberies body to move, or that the civil liberites bodies alone should handle this. What I am saying is that such an umbrella orgaanisation is the best way topput presure on the pSnI etc. If opposition to 28 dyas etc does not move beyond those who oppose GFA then nothing will happen.

    28 day detention is wrong, given any police force this amount of power is wrong, building as big an opposition to such laws as possible is right.

  15. Starry Plough, you are right. GFA opponents alone can't do it. But is it too much to expect - and I don't actually expect it - that the pro GFA party with the most experience of political policing should be raising the roof on the matter?

  16. As someone who logs on to this website and really enjoys the writings and comments ,something over the years really springs to mind , the point being that history really does keep repeating itself, anyone of the republican mindset should know that the civil war,the 30's ,Border campaign, and when Dev turned on his own comrades and let them die on hunger strike. Sorry to remind you all but this will continue for years to come. When people are put into positions of power it really does effect them its a fact of life, all republicans think that they are doing the right thing by there people when in reality they never had a mandate to begin with .Pity the current crop of republicans dont listen to the Irish people and dont go down the same route as the others, sorry lads but your leaders will let you down with false hopes.

  17. No AM it is not too much too expect.

  18. Starry Plough, apparently it is too much to expect because they ain't doing it.

  19. Starry Plough, any suggestions as to how it can be made to happen?