The Politics Of Policing

Political policing was long supposedly the bane of Sinn Fein.  Or so we thought. That was only a myth it now seems spawned by journalists out to undermine the peace process. What these misinformed ne'er-do-wells failed to grasp in their reluctance to read between the lines of party statements was this: it was not that the RUC was a political police force per se but that it was not Sinn Fein’s political police force that really angered the party. Which of course led to its support for an armed campaign aimed not at ending political policing but at killing police officers it could not politically control.

This much seems clear from the attempted political intervention by the Stormont micro minister Martin McGuinness in respect of a British police investigation into the April killing of PSNI member Ronan Kerr. McGuinness in trying to exert political pressure on the police investigation called for the release of not all, but only one, of the five arrested people. He complained:

the arrest and release of this young man raises very serious questions about the quality of the current PSNI investigation. Bad policing operations in republican communities will do nothing to bring his killers to justice. Indeed if anything the opposite is the case ... I have been in contact with the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) at the top level to register my dissatisfaction and annoyance at the operation in Coalisland. The nature of the operation has caused widespread anger in the local community. That is a reality the PSNI will now have to face.

This seems nothing short of political blackmail: we might withhold our full support from the police if they arrest people we do not want arrested in the course of investigating an incident we wholeheartedly condemned and the perpetrators of which we demanded be handed over to the police.

McGuinness went on to object to the PSNI operation on the grounds that the arrested man on whose behalf he tried to make a political intervention was "completely innocent".  Apart from the inference here being that the others arrested were not as completely innocent, what would he know about a police investigation to be able to judge whether it was carried out in accordance with proper procedure and did not amount to an abuse of process? Are police investigations not meant to be fire walled from intrusion by politicians as a necessary defence against allegations of political policing?

Moreover, in describing the arrested man as a very decent and fine young man McGuinness actually says nothing that would reinforce a belief in the innocence of the man. Often McGuiness referred in similar terms to the IRA volunteers under his command who killed the three hundred other Ronan Kerrs before the brutal Omagh slaying in May of this year. Being decent and fine are not attributes in McGuinness's view that would inhibit a person from killing British police officers.

The question of course that is immediately thrown up by all of this is this: in the brave new world that Sinn Fein has landed itself in, are police investigations to be determined by the degree of anger an inquiry generates in a local community? If in pursuit of East Belfast UVF figures behind the recent assault on the Short Strand the local unionist community behaves uproariously is the investigation to be halted?

Without much fear of being contradicted Maurice Morrow of the DUP could leap out of the traps to say that Sinn Fein were guilty of double standards and were sending out mixed messages.

In its rejection of the McGuinness claims the PSNI said its investigation was being 'conducted to the highest professional standards. Police have a duty to follow all lines of inquiry without fear or favour in accordance with the law.' Some pigs fly and others lie we are invited to think.

Bad enough but the Sinn Fein volte face gets worse. In implying that detention periods for suspects were too short McGuinness made the following comment: 'They were basically held just over one day. That doesn't say to me that this was a serious attempt to find those who were responsible for the killing of Ronan Kerr.'

Would he suggest a seven day detention or even a 28 day stint of interrogation as being sufficiently long? And would he also recommend that he be allowed to vet those about to be arrested so that only those he signs off on get whatever his preferred longer spell of detention happens to be?

It is clear with incidents like the revoking of the licences of Marian Price and Martin Corey that political policing is very much part of the fabric of Northern Irish society. And with the behaviour of the Stormont micro minister it is likely to remain a feature for quite some time to come.


  1. Agree Anthony and its a sure bet that the "fisherman" will be calling for internment,maybe under a different name but still internment all the same,before things get anymore out of control,but to be fair to him if Peter says ok he ,ll demand that its impartial and evenhanded,

  2. Marty,

    I have no doubt whatsoever that he would give full backing to internment if he felt it would protect his position. And the bulk of the party would back him and those that did not would be silent about it.

  3. revoking peoples lisences without charges is internment by another name, is it not?

  4. Larry,

    in a limited sense. Internment would need to be much wider to work any way efficiently for the state. If internment was in at present there would be many more interned than just the two mentioned here.

  5. What is your solution to the problems in NI ? What has galvin got to contribute ?

  6. Good piece, Mackers. I think MMcG was forced to critise the police operation after two local SF representatives spoke out, one of the being a former prisoner himself. Of course, you are right to point out that SF have less of a problem with political policing as long as it is directed at the 'usual suspects'. The problem is that the state fails to make such a distincition at times. For example, both my mother and brother have had their homes raided as part and parcel of an arrest operation directed against myself. Such actions are viewd by the local communities as excessive and punitive by nature. Sinn Fein are uncomfortable with the fall out of political policing which is not finely tuned to requirements.

  7. Dave may I dare say norn iorn is the problem,well the six north eastern counties of the nine counties of Ulster are!artificially seperated from the rest of the country and now we have suspect republicans most probably agents of hmg acting as micro ministers and servants of unionism, while the castle catholics and queen loving lackeys in the southern states have long since abandoned any aspiration or pretence to a unified Ireland, as fought and died for by Tone,Emmet, Connolly, Sands and many many more, the solution is as stated by Emmet,s epitaph that Ireland as a nation takes its place among the nations of the earth, I suspect you already know this but want to have a mix? Martin Galvin from his words and actions is a true friend of this country ,can you say the same?.

  8. A.M.

    not so sure, very selective 'internment/political policing' is proving extremely effective against the limited republican resistance today.

    Along with the McKevit, Duffy and other 'fit-ups' the withrawal of lisenced prisoners freedom is serving purpose very well. Not to mention sending out a very powerful signal.

  9. Haughey Lynch Lemass De Valera
    It’s amazing how history shows that reformed Militant republicans all wanted internment not long now before our recent hero’s opt for same
    Adams and McGunniness it’s your turn lads and with all ye have done to keep the Union I am sure the next step is easy bring on Internment !!!!! I really feel after reading this myself

  10. The thing about Marty is; he himself seemed to be immune from the old political policing.

    Even back in the old days of the early 70s when he was still a leader of the IRA he avoided the Internment swoops.

    And when he was no longer a member of the IRA at all [cough-choke-choke!!]but still willing to encourage others to fight and kill in the name of Republicanism, the Brits didn't seek to remove him by any of the supergrasses.

    Now call me a cynical bastard if you want but it seems the Brits have the right man for the job. And they seemed to know he was for a hell of a long time.

    PS sorry for the fit of choking but I am getting old and crabbit!

  11. It sometimes helps to read the odd
    statement in the papers or see it on the T.v
    news- these told me that one of those who were arrested last week
    was in america working when yer cop
    kerr was killed- so this meant that the p.s.n.i lied about that arrest in public- some here seem to
    Hate McGuinness more for making this public than they hate the lies
    of the p.s.n.i-

  12. Dixie it sometimes helps to be a cynical bastard and in Mc Guinness,s case I believe he had a fast horse to carry him Dick Turpin like across the border,

  13. mcguinness never needed a horse, he was the horse the brits had their money invested in.

  14. Dave

    all Europe is looking bust. Bet Germany + France regret playing Napoleon and wish they'd left well alone.

    mind you how the USA can owe China and Saudi zillions and just survive defaulting and RETAIN tripple A credit rating makes one ponder just a tad.

  15. Michaelhenry,

    ‘It sometimes helps to read the odd statement in the papers or see it on the TV News - these told me that one of those who were arrested last week was in America working when yer cop kerr was killed - so this meant that the p.s.n.i lied about that arrest in public.’

    Not so. What the news didn’t tell you is the role they suspected the guy of playing. Being abroad at the time would not absolve someone of complicity. In this case the PSNI might well be lying. Few would doubt their penchant for lying. But SF supports it in its political policing role which involves quite alot of lying.

    None of this suggests that the man in question is guilty of anything. He might well be as pure as the driven snow. Point is you don’t really know anything about the investigation. Nor do I. But it must cause you some problems when you feel the force your party supports is guilty of such egregious behaviour.

  16. Dixie,

    ‘The thing about Marty is; he himself seemed to be immune from the old political policing.’

    A feature of counter insurgency strategy would seem to be the moulding of a leadership that can be worked with. I think you sum it up well: ‘it seems the Brits have the right man for the job. And they seemed to know he was for a hell of a long time.’

    I always found it telling that he was not taken out by the supergrass strategy. We know now that supergrasses were managed to implicate certain people not others. It would be great if Bobby Lean would open up about his experience in that regard. I suppose with family commitments and wanting the past to be the past he might never do so.


    ‘I think MMcG was forced to criticise the police operation after two local SF representatives spoke out, one of the being a former prisoner himself.’

    That is probable right. Although I wonder if Peter Bateson has been pulled over the coals for it by McGuinness.

    I agree with you on the question of the problems it causes for SF when political policing people like your mother. She opposed political policing all her days and is now the victim of the very policing SF claimed it had got rid of.

  17. AM-

    Egregios- had to look that one up
    in the old dictionary- you are as bad as Stephen fry with those odd big words- im reading his autobiography at the momment-
    The fry chronicles
    a great book so far-

  18. Michaelhenry,

    haven't read it.

  19. Dave,
    aren't you American?
    WE ARE BUST! 14 trillion in debt and no jobs.

  20. How come Slab led a charmed life for so long ? Yeah, I come from Lincoln Nebraska, the economy is ok, California and NYC are in a mess, same for most of the south.2 grandparents came from Leitrim, WAL MART/ASDA Enniskillen is their fifth busiest store on the planet , up north things seem to run better, the republic couldn't afford the 6 counties.

  21. Dave-

    Al Qaeda must not think you much of a target- you have lived a charmed life- did you pay them off-
    bullshit works both ways old hand-

  22. Dave I spend a lot of my time in lovely Leitrim so cant say anything bad about the place,true asda in Kathleens island (Enniskillen)is one busy place and its mostly southern cars you see about the place, but economics is no justification for keeping a nation and its people divided,if things seem to run better up north as you say,well a cara its southern dosh and brit handout that keeps this place afloat.

  23. Dave-
    Have you ever been it Ireland? The north is a basket case just as much as the south. Over half depend on gov't jobs or assistance.the Free State can absolutely afford the six. It makes no sense to have two currencies and economic systems on a tiny island of 6 million people.
    But sadly they are both better off than our nation my fellow countryman. Because of a wasteful useless congress no more AAA rating hope you have extra $$ to pay that rising mortgage credit card and car payment interest.

  24. Ryan,

    How can the republic afford the six counties if over half the people in the North depend on government jobs or some form of social welfare? The North would have to be booming before we could take it on.

  25. Alfie you as well are talking as if the north eastern counties of this island were some sort of branch of some multi national bank or something,whether norn iorn is a viable economic unit or not really doesnt matter Ireland is an island consisting of 4 provinces and 32 counties,this part of Ireland is not a prodical son who left the family home but rather a stolen land by thugs aided and abetted by the English goverment and now the quislings in Leinster house and psf, have we not had enough of being bought and sold as Burns so rightly declared by a parcel of rouges in a nation.economics have nothing to do with the reality that this nation has been torn asunder for nothing more than the selfish whims of a few bigoted hu-ra Henry unionst landlords and until and only until the injustice of partition is resolved,ie, reunification then mo cara Ireland unfree shall never really be at peace.

  26. if there was a utd Ireland, it wouldn't look much different.Tesco, Man Utd, Vodafone The Sun and Dunnes stores would still be the biggest players.The south is a German province for the forseeable future.Shame.

  27. Dave cant argue with that a cara.