14th December 2001
Business as usual; the new beginning!
Gerry Kelly, MLA (Sinn Fein Spokesperson on Policing)
Since the Mandelson 'Police Bill' was published in May last year and up to the present Sinn Fein has been consistent and adamant that effective powers of inquiry must be given to ensure that the impunity with which the RUC has acted in the past does not become our future. This is critical to a new beginning to policing.
Recent events, reports and revelations again demonstrate the vital necessity for this. They also clearly show that this is not just a 'policing' problem but that it finds its centre in the securocrat empire of the NIO which continues to dominate the British Government's political agenda in a range of ways. More than anything else this is evidenced in the murder of Pat Finucane.
- The man who supplied the information was British Military Intelligence agent and UDA member Brian Nelson.
- The man who supplied the guns was Special Branch agent and UDA member William Stobie.
- The man who pulled the trigger, according to RUC-CID Officer Jonty Brown, was a Special Branch agent and UDA member.
- In charge of all of these people was Special Branch agent and UDA commander Tommy Lyttle.
Nelson was granted immunity. Lyttle died of natural causes. Stobie was recently shot dead. Despite his status as a Special Branch agent and a threat to his life, incredibly, was afforded no protection. Not a single Special Branch member, Military Intelligence Officer or NIO securocrat has been held to account. Moreover, the British Police Act 2000, which some would have us believe is the promised new beginning, ensures that they cannot be held accountable. For under this the Chief Constable has the power to refuse to give up information on such activities by Special Branch officers and Special Branch agents. Accordingly the Oversight Commissioner Tom Constantine and the Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan have independently, in recent weeks, complained about the refusal by the Special Branch to co-operate with them and they do not have powers to compel them to do so. Conversely, however, the Chief Constable can reject outright any request for a report on such matters by the Policing Board.
Patten required, and with no ifs, ands or buts about it, that 'bad apples' - his euphemism for human rights abusers in the RUC - have to be dealt with. Not only is there no mechanism to do so but incredibly it is quite likely that RUC members who were in the Special Branch, say 7 years ago at the time of the first IRA cessation, can still be in the Special Branch several years from now; acting with the same impunity; with the same lack of democratic accountability; with the same support, as in the past, from the British Government. The British Government legislation on policing guarantees this. It was crafted to have this effect and any amendment to this mooted so far by the British Government, for some point in the indefinite future will do nothing to resolve this.
The Police Act handcuffs the Policing Board so as to make inquiries into violations of human rights by the RUC virtually impossible by erecting a series of procedural hurdles.
- Under the Act, the Policing Board cannot undertake an inquiry until it has received a report from the Chief Constable. A mechanism is built into the Act which enables the Chief Constable to escape this requirement to report. The Chief Constable has the power to refer a request by the Board to the British Secretary of State on four grounds, including grounds which subvert Patten.
- The British Secretary of State can uphold the refusal of the Chief Constable to refuse to report to the Board on any of the grounds in the Act, including the offending grounds.
- For the Board to decide to hold an inquiry three Board members must make a written request and then, rather than a simple majority, the Act specifies the number of Board members required to ratify a decision to hold an inquiry: 10 members if 18/19 are present; 9 members if 16/17 are present; 8 if less then 16 are present.
- The Chief Constable can then challenge the Board's decision to hold an inquiry on any of the grounds in the Act and the decision to hold an inquiry may be referred to the British Secretary of State
- The British Secretary of State can overrule a decision of the Board to hold an inquiry on any of the grounds in the Act
- The Board requires the agreement of the British Secretary of State to the appointment of any person to conduct the inquiry, other than the Comptroller and Auditor General; the Ombudsman; an inspector of the police service in the six counties
- The inquiry may not deal with an act or omission which occurred before the coming into force of the Act. Limited information about a prior act or omission may be given "consideration" by a person conducting an inquiry to the extent that the discharge of functions in relation to the subject of the inquiry can be shown to make "consideration" of that information necessary
- Finally, the expenses incurred by anyone conducting an inquiry and anyone appearing at an inquiry must be paid out of the Board's own budget.
Robust, rigorous and unfettered powers of inquiry are required by the Policing Board and the Ombudsman. We need to know the truth about the murders of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill, Pearse Jordan, and of Sam Devenny, Patrick Rooney, Nora McCabe, and Padraig Kelly. We need to know the truth about collusion between loyalists and the Crown Forces over 300 people were killed. For true accountability, we need to know what happened and why. And once the RUC's 'wall of silence' has been knocked down, only true accountability will ensure that wall can never be rebuilt. That is the guarantee every democrat, nationalist and republican needs: that what has happened will never, ever happen again. That guarantee needs to be in law. If the British government will not do that, then the new beginning to policing cannot commence. The Police Act must be amended to ensure that the legacy of past does not remain the policy of policing in the future.
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