15th May 2003
Sinn Fein rejects Police Cooperation Bill as a bridge too far and entirely premature
Sinn Fein spokesperson on Justice and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD speaking in the Dáil today on the Police Cooperation Bill said that the party could not support this Bill ``at this time'' as it was ``entirely premature''. He urged members of the House to reconsider supporting the Bill in light of recentevents, including the suspension of the Assembly, the cancellation of the elections and ``most importantly'' the reports in the 3rd Stevens report thatconfirm that there was widespread collusion between the RUC and unionist death squads.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said: ``It was my hope that when the Police Cooperation Bill came before the House, it would be in a context of fundamental positive change in policing structures, policing practice and policing culture in the northern part of this island. To say that this is not yet reality is a huge understatement.
``Let me state clearly that while I wish that Sinn Fein could support this Bill, we cannot do so at this time. The bottom line is that this measure is important, but entirely premature. What we have in the PSNI does not even meet the Patten threshold. So just as Sinn Fein cannot yet sit on the PolicingBoards for this very reason, neither can we support this Bill at this point in time. It would not be appropriate for this House to enact this Bill until suchtime as a proper policing service is established in the Six Counties.
``I urge the members in this House planning to support this Bill to reconsider in light of recent events. The British Government has not only suspended the Assembly, a democratically elected institution. They have now gone a step further in their interference in the democratic process, and cancelled the May29 election. But perhaps most importantly, given the most recent revelations in Stevens 3 of collusion between the RUC Special Branch and unionist death squads- to support this Bill at this time in effect gives endorsement to the PSNI asit stands now - as a cosmetically-reconstructed RUC, with the wholly discreditedSpecial Branch intact and complete with serving officers who have been involvedin human rights abuses and may well have been involved in collusion. This is abridge too far, I believe, for right-thinking Members regardless of politicalaffiliation.''
FULL TEXT FOLLOWS
POLICE COOPERATION BILL 2003
SPEECH TO SECOND STAGE 14 MAY 2003
AENGUS Ó SNODAIGH TD
SINN FÉIN SPOKESPERSON ON JUSTICE and HUMAN RIGHTS
It was my hope that when the Police Cooperation Bill came before the House, it would be in a context of fundamental positive change in policing structures, policing practice and policing culture in the northern part of this island. That the ordinary Irish citizens who have been to the forefront of pressing for reform together with Sinn Fein could say that their daily experience of policing had changed utterly and for the better. To say that this is not yet reality isa huge understatement. But WERE it the case, Sinn Fein would warmly welcome this Bill as an important interim step towards harmonising policing in both parts of the island - a process culminating in a single police force of the highest human rights standard in the world, upholding just laws equally applied to all citizens and residents in a United Ireland.
But let me state clearly that while I WISH that Sinn Fein could support this Bill, we cannot do so at this time.
The bottom line is that this measure is important, but entirely premature. It would not be appropriate for this House to enact this Bill until such time as a proper policing service is established in the 6 counties. One that, at the very least, FULLY implements the Patten recommendations. And I wish to remind this House that Sinn Fein regards Patten as a compromise, an absolute minimum standard - it is not at all the ultimate guide to creating the world classpolice service to which we aspire, and which Irish citizens deserve. And let'sbe clear. What we have in the PSNI does NOT even meet the Patten threshold. Sojust as Sinn Fein cannot yet sit on the Policing Boards for this very reason,neither can we support this Bill at this point in time.
In fact I urge the members in this House planning to support this Bill to reconsider in light of recent events. The British Government has not only suspended the Assembly, a democratically elected institution. They have now gone a step further in their interference in the democratic process, and cancelled the May 29 election in the face of all but unanimous opposition - expressed by the Irish Government and on both sides of this House just lastweek. But perhaps most importantly, given the most recent revelations in Stevens 3 of collusion between the RUC Special Branch and unionist death squads? to support this Bill at this time in effect gives endorsement to the PSNI asit stands now - as a cosmetically-reconstructed RUC, with the wholly discredited Special Branch intact and complete with serving officers who have been involved in human rights abuses and may well have been involved in collusion. This is abridge too far, I believe, for right-thinking Members regardless of political affiliation.
But this Bill wrongly presumes that the needed police reforms are complete. I would draw the Members' attention to section 2 subsections 3 and 4 of the Bill, which set out eligibility requirements to enable a member of the PSNI to serve with the Garda Síochána. It lists equivalent qualifications including experience and rank, and specifies a merit-based selection process. But NOWHERE does it explicitly set out procedures to screen for past involvement in human rights abuses in the course of duty, nor indicate that eligibility will be predicated on human rights training or upskilling. Indeed, given the history of policing in the north, human rights training should also be a minimum requirement for members of the Gardaí to eventually serve with an acceptable policing service in the north. But not a single line of this Bill mentions human rights standards.
There is nothing in this Bill to stop the internationally discredited Special Branch officers from serving in this state. There is also nothing in this Bill to screen out serving officers of the PSNI if they are the subject of investigation or legal proceeding in relation to abuse of powers. This cannot be allowed to happen, and must be safeguarded against.
Fundamentally, we also believe that passing this legislation is not appropriate until such time as policing and justice powers have been devolved, and are no longer vested in a foreign country and occupying power. Full justice, fulls self-determination for the people of Ireland demands the devolution of these powers as a minimum requirement. We need to bring policing back under local democratic control, and shape it as an effective and trusted community service ? not as a tool of oppression and sectarianism.
The RUC was the armed wing of unionism. It was sectarian in make-up and nature, it was routinely involved in collusion with unionist paramilitaries, it engaged in shoot-to-kill, intimidated lawyers and operated within the framework of repressive emergency legislation. The Good Friday Agreement therefore promised a new police service that would be ``impartial, representative, free from partisan political control, efficient, infused with a human rights culture, decentralised, and democratically accountable at all levels.'' But the British Government response was to gut Patten, and undermine these efforts. And to convince us that RUC-lite - or the PSNI - is an acceptable substitute for real change. It is not.
All sections of society want and deserve a policing service we can trust and respect, and feel confident of joining and supporting. Sinn Fein wants a new policing service. The peace process requires one. Policing is one of the most important issues at the heart of conflict resolution. Pending the establishment of an all-Ireland policing service, Sinn Fein wants to see a police service established that can attract widespread support from the community as a whole.
This police service would be unarmed, would not use deadly plastic bullets as they would be banned, would not enforce repressive legislation as it would bere pealed, would have completed compulsory human rights training and had violators investigated and culled from its ranks. None of this can describe the PSNI. Yet this Bill presumes that the required policing wrongs have been righted and that anticipated personnel exchanges can now proceed.
Five years on we STILL need root and branch reform of the policing and justice systems. We need the transfer of powers on policing and justice to the Assembly as an interim measure. And we need effective inquiries into the murders of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, the Brian Nelson affair, and multiple allegations of collusion between the unionist police force and unionist paramilitary gangs. What we don't need is premature legislation such as this that can work at cross-purposes to the goal of resolving the policing issue that is so important to all of us on this island.
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