From The Belfast Telegraph as Sinn Fein members say they are under death threats from dissidents for attending a police recruitment event Marisa McGlinchey argues that was a normal step for a party hoping to be in government on both sides of the border.
The declining number of Catholic police officers in the PSNI has led to a recent recruitment drive by the organisation in a bid to encourage new recruits, particularly from a Catholic background.
It was the attendance of senior Sinn Fein members at this event that provoked a strong reaction from within the so-called 'dissident' republican base; and Sinn Fein has stated that the party has been informed of 'dissident' threats against party members.
Threats against Sinn Fein have been met with widespread scepticism from 'dissident' republicans with many believing that no such threat exists; however it is clear that Sinn Fein members are taking these threats seriously and believe them to be real.
So-called 'dissident' republicans, or traditional republicans, are wedded to the traditional republican campaign for a 32 county Ireland and are therefore fundamentally opposed to the state of Northern Ireland and its associated institutions - including those of law and order such as the courts and the PSNI. While traditional republicans may view Catholic recruits with particular disdain, the religious composition of the police service is not a significant factor in their opposition to it. The fact that a police officer is Catholic is seen as secondary to their role in defending the state.
On January 21, 1919 two Catholic RIC officers were killed by the IRA in Tipperary at the Soloheadbeg ambush which marked the start of the war of independence.
Much was made of the fact that they were Catholic and one was a native Irish speaker from Mayo, thus provoking a response from republicans at the time who stated that the killings were irrespective of religion or language but that they took place because they were 'members of a British police force in Ireland'.
Hard-line republicans today echo this traditional republican position that opposition to the PSNI is based on the fact that they are seen as maintaining the British presence in Ireland.
When in 1998 Sinn Fein accepted the consent principle, the concept of which had been advocated by John Hume and the SDLP since the 1970s, the party was overturning the traditional republican position which referred to consent as a unionist veto over Irish unity. In a series of documents exchanged during the Hume-Adams talks the SDLP advocated that the British presence in Ireland was in fact the unionist people; therefore advocating uniting the people of Ireland in the spirit of Wolfe Tone's call to unite Catholic, Protestant and dissenter.
Sinn Fein's eventual acceptance of the principle of consent and of the need to persuade unionists of the merits of Irish unity was a historic step. When Sinn Fein accepted consent and entered the power sharing institutions of Northern Ireland they were inevitably set on a path of accepting its institutions including the police.
Acceptance of consent and working the institutions of Northern Ireland were major points at which so-called 'dissident' republicans broke away from Sinn Fein or the wider Provisional Movement.
Traditional republicans continue to assert that consent is simply a unionist veto and they fundamentally reject any reform of the state of Northern Ireland, instead seeking revolutionary change and part of that revolutionary change would be a completely new police force, not a reformed one.
Reform of the PSNI is viewed as simply another step in the normalisation of the state of Northern Ireland. A key aim of 'dissident' republicans is to highlight the abnormal nature of the state of Northern Ireland and of the PSNI.
Traditional republicans reject that the PSNI is something new or different or that it is rooted in the community. In fact republicans draw a direct line from the RIC to the RUC to the PSNI, demonstrating this by deliberately and pointedly referring to the PSNI as the RUC.
The message put forward by 'dissident' republican groups such as Saoradh predominantly features anti-PSNI campaigns and highlights current republican prisoners in Maghaberry and Portlaoise prisons.
Saoradh regularly highlight house raids and stop and searches on its members; and Republican Sinn Fein and Saoradh have violently clashed with police at Easter commemorations, particularly in Derry and North Armagh.
With Sinn Fein's massive electoral success in the recent Dail elections in the South, many see their long term strategy of being in power in the North and South as coming to fruition. The party continues with its strategy to push for a border poll and criticises the lack of a strategy put forward by 'dissident' republicans. Traditional republicans are fundamentally opposed to a border poll on the basis that it would take place exclusively in the six counties of Northern Ireland, that it has to be called by a (British) Secretary of State and that the sovereignty of the Irish nation is a right.
Further, they have argued that the goal posts will inevitably be changed regarding the threshold.
Whilst it looks unlikely that a border poll will actually take place, traditional republicans have stated that they will not partake in a border poll if one is called and they have called on others to not partake. This poses the question for traditional republicans - what if a border poll is lost by a small majority and they could have made the difference?
Regarding an armed campaign, the so-called dissident republican base is a spectrum of opinion including independents who have justified the Provisional IRA's campaign but are highly critical of groups who continue with a campaign at present; and interestingly a senior member of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement has stated: "I would go so far as to say that there should be no action in the North against any police."
But armed actions by the Continuity and New IRAs, which have almost exclusively targeted the PSNI, continue on as the organisations remain steadfast in their belief that the PSNI represent the first line of defence of the British occupation of the North of Ireland.
➽Marisa McGlinchey is an Assistant Professor in Political Science in the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University