All entries for Sunday 28 January 2007

January 28, 2007

Movement In NI?

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Well well well, Sinn Fein have decided to back the Police Service of Northern Ireland, a move which was predicted but whose implications throw up some interesting possibilities.

The Republican objection to the police is longstanding and understandable. Bloody Sunday was merely the worst of the various incidents which turned the Catholic population from mild suspicion to outright hatred and distrust. It didn’t help that members of the then RUC colluded with loyalist terrorists to kill Catholics who were a nuisance. Whilst some were Republican terrorists themselves, some were people who merely annoyed the loyalists, like the lawyer Pat Finucane whose representation of IRA suspects in court earnt him an assassination in front of his wife and children. The response of the IRA to such incidents was to shoot police officers which bred a vicious cycle. My mum’s cousin was a Catholic RUC member who was shot whilst out on patrol one day in Northern Ireland. He survived but the officer he was with was killed.

But the change of heart by Sinn Fein comes admist reform and change. the question now is whether there will be some reprisals from Republicans beyond the shouting of “Traitor!” at Adams, and whether the DUP will return to powersharing. Ian Paisley has no doubt been dreading this moment. Since the second ceasefire in the 1990s Sinn Fein and the associated members of the Provisional IRA have been moving closer and closer to being a cooperative, legitimate party. Though not always inevitable, once the Good Friday Agreement was signed this was always a highly likely outcome. Hotheaded young radicals might like to weild guns and shout slogans, but when they grow up and realise they can make more difference (and get arrested less) in politics then they shift to more peaceful means. The electoral success Sinn Fein have seen since the IRA publically renounced violence has only fuelled their push to democracy. The PSNI move is designed to get more SDLP voters, and get more political power. In itself this isn’t a bad thing to most reasonable people – better to have the dissenters shouting rather than shooting?

So this becomes a test for Paisley. If his objections to Sinn Fein have always been about protecting the Protestants from harm, about maintaining law and order then he should come back to the table and talk. He should get the power sharing assembly working. Surely with the passing of his big objection over Sinn Fein and the PSNI should signal reproachment. Maybe it will. But part of me suspects it won’t, that a new excuse could be found. I’ve never truly believed that Paisley’s stance wasn’t tainted by racism. I won’t call it sectarianism as that has strangely acquired a position which isn’t as poorly looked upon as racism. Had a Protestant celebrity picked on a Catholic one for their faith on Big Brother we wouldn’t be having the same broo-ha-ha we have seen over the racism. Paisley has subjected Catholics and the Irish from the Republic to appalling racism over the years, and if he finds something else to object to about Sinn Fein, having banged on about their police stance for the last year or two since decommisioning, then I truly hope people will open their eyes and see him as the racist his is.

And Sinn Fein had better behave too. Just because they’ve done a ‘good thing’ for moving along the peace process doesn’t take away from the fact that they’ve done it several years later than it should have been done in the first place. Once more they come out of events looking good for doing something which is a little overdue for a political party wanting to play by the rule of law. But progress is progress and anything is better than police officers like my relative being shot in the street. Let’s see what happens.

January 2007

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