The criminal justice system and its organic relationship to British Repressive State Apparatuses (RSAs), helped prime and then fuel the explosion of Northern political violence. This rendered it most unsuited to any resolution of that conflict. The upending referred to by Blair was a necessary reform without which even an outcome as limited as the GFA was (measured against republican objectives), would have been well-nigh impossible to get across the line.
The more that process of turning the criminal justice system upside down is reversed, the less the scaffolding that supports conflict management is to be seen in place. It may well be thought in London, Dublin, and Washington that the structure of the GFA is so firmly embedded, and republicanism so thoroughly defeated, that it no longer requires the props. Whatever substance there may be to that, it is hardly a risk-free venture lacking in sufficient incendiary spark to ignite the ever increasing pool of the North’s more combustible elements.
There seemed no better way of underscoring the tangible political reversal than placing a Sinn Fein member in front of ‘a London court ... on the 15th anniversary of the ratification of the Good Friday peace accord.’ It is so easy to imagine Owen Paterson and his right wing colleagues in the Tory Party cheering ‘Tally ho. Take that. Box the Provo scoundrel’s ears. Absolutely spiffing old bean.’
Outside of the legalities of the courtroom there seems to exist a wider political endeavour geared towards rescuing the image of the British state from the partial but grave culpability it was implicitly compelled to assume for the conflict when it agreed to serious compromises on the law enforcement issue. This repair work on damaged image manifests intself in the exclusive prosecution of non state actors.
John Downey faces charges relating to the deaths of British military personnel at the height of the Northern conflict. His party colleague, the Provisional IRA trail blazer for bombing London, Gerry Kelly, accused the British of bad faith and described their action as ‘vindictive, unnecessary and unhelpful.’ He continued:
As part of the Weston Park negotiation the British Government committed to resolving the position of OTRs. John Downey received a letter from the NIO in 2007 stating that he was not wanted by the PSNI or any British Police Force. Despite travelling to England on many occasions now six years on he finds himself before the courts on these historic charges.
Sinn Fein seemingly does not do irony. We need only recall the vitriol hurled against myself and Ed Moloney for having accepted the word of Boston College that there were no circumstances in which the material gathered for its archive could ever be accessed by law enforcement. Now we have Sinn Fein protesting that the party was shafted, having earlier accepted the word of the British in relation to no further law enforcement interest in past cases. Arguably, given the experience of republicans, there were fewer grounds for believing the word of the British than that of Boston College. Ultimately as it turned out neither were worthy of belief.
Meanwhile, Kelly’s party leader Gerry Adams has taken to blaming 'securocrats'. Not only is that a discredited tactic hitherto employed to give cover to many post ceasefire IRA actions, it also suggests a dissonance between the British state and some of its officials in the RSAs. It is simply implausible in the face of so much mounting evidence to contend that the British state is not up to its neck in these measures. They are pursued with state endorsement rather than mere toleration.
The British state's ability to behave in this manner is made all the easier by Sinn Fein double standards. The Irish Times reported the DUP’s Nigel Dodds MP as having ridiculed Sinn Féin’s complaints saying it has spent 'years, if not decades pursuing inquiries into the security forces or any agency of the state in Northern Ireland.' Why then would anyone read as serious the party's calls for fairness articulated through a demand for the release of John Downey but the prosecution of the Bloody Sunday paratroopers?
The prosecution of John Downey presents Sinn Fein with greater difficulties than the internment of either Marian Price or Martin Corey even though both are being held on foot of activity they committed as Provisional IRA volunteers prior to the GFA. The party faithful who could afford to ignore the arrests of republicans - sure they are just dissidents anyway - are now confronted with the prosecutors calling at their door too. It is too late for the party leaders to begin thinking Pastor Niemoller might have had a point.
Party leader Gerry Adams has said 'Sinn Féin has consistently raised all these matters with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste'. Which means as consistently as the party has raised them it has just as consistently been ignored. The implicit strategic message is that other than raise it with the Dublin government who will then be blamed for not persuading the British to desist, Sinn Fein will carry on pretty much as before: saying something and doing less while the British snidely observe 'big hat, no cattle.'
Sinn Fein, if it had even a smattering of anti British state radicalism left, would pull out of the power splitting executive, demanding that a revanchist law enforcement ensemble with political backing not be allowed to mulch the fibres and sinews that pulled the structure of Sinn Fein's much vaunted solution into place. More than any other factor, law enforcement crystallised the repressive relationship between the British state and Northern nationalism. To allow it to reassert itself as a means of exculpating its responsibility, is to thrust a dagger through the heart of whatever spirit supposedy breathed life into the Good Friday Agreement.
In terms of advancing a radical agenda Sinn Fein has gained little since joining the executive and stands to lose even more by remaining in it. Pull the plug while in a position to do so. It is all being drained away in any event.