The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
The PSNI Threat
Opportunity can often sway even an honest man. — Latin Proverb
Anthony McIntyre • 16.12.03

Martin Salter, a British Labour MP, a couple of years past posed the question, 'what on earth has happened to the early 1970 radicals like myself who have found themselves in Parliament 25 years later. Have we sold out - or simply grown up?' An interesting question, and one that should be considered by any 1970s radical considering embracing all the things their radicalism once pitted them against. But the force of the question was blunted by the answer it only half sought to disguise. Suggesting a maturation attained by ‘simply growing up’ is yet another self-justificatory discourse aimed at alienating alternative voices by ascribing to them the characteristics of infantilism. Obliterate one’s own egregious metamorphosis, not by explanation, but by silencing those who would flag it up. And when backs are against the wall what more useful a weapon to impose silence than the police?

The problem of policing in any society has not yet been solved by those eager to add their number to the ‘thin blue line.’ Even at its most adventurous, it is not easy to conceive of an entryism that manages to maintain at the centre of its vision a problematisation of the police as distinct from the problem of policing. There is more to suggest that regardless of the initial motives of the radicals determined to hold the police to account, little time passes before the power of the policing institution comes to inscribe itself in the being of those inside it. The individual exchanges his or her own identity for an institutional one. They may start out sporting their new institutional dimension only as a mask, but invariably the mask absorbs and constitutes the face. Their discourse becomes little other than a mere word in a wider sentence. It is only defensible to themselves and intelligible to others when situated within a longer chain. The institutional sentence, not the individual word, is the found upon which meaning is based. Despite the optimism of the Pollyannas that any chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the chain can easily dispense with the link if it doesn’t fit - the link is nothing without the chain, hooked on it as it is. Eventually, the poachers become gamekeepers; their energy expended in protecting the police against the policed.

But no amount of ducking and diving evades that thorny old question which is as old as society itself - who guards the guards; who shall police the police? If those most opposed to the police join them, then in a bid to minimise criticism of their decision they shall seek to minimise criticism of the police - ‘they are alright now because we are part of it.’ So when Martin McGuinness says that Sinn Fein is ‘very determined to bring about the kind of change which would encourage young nationalists to step out of their front doors with their uniforms on, with their chests out and their heads held high,’ the doubt that gnaws at the mind is who then is going to hold these people to account? There are republicans who have stated that although they served jail time alongside Gerry Kelly, they fear that if were to become Minister for Justice he would revoke their licenses and return them to prison. That he may never is hardly the point – people believe it and envisage no safeguards against it. They see no sign of autonomous republican grassroots activism that would stand up to leadership rightism. Past practice does not augur well for future behaviour. The former Sinn Fein Health Minister closed down hospitals and cut back on acute health services not because she was a Thatcherite ideologue but because she opted to take up a position, which once occupied, allowed for no other option. Yet there was no public Sinn Fein criticism of her. Is it to be the same with policing?

The British state is at ease with its position in Ireland. There is no serious threat to it. It no longer requires the type of police force once deemed essential to meet the challenge of subversion. The only issue confronting it in relation to policing is the potential fall out from inquiries that don’t do what they are supposed to do and end up highlighting past policing malpractice. At most this embarrasses the government of the day but will hardly cause it to short circuit. The faulty wiring was installed on another’s watch.

Yet, it is clear that the British state in spite of Patten has done little to tackle the fact that the police remain a problem. On three separate occasions the PSNI have been found making concerted attempts to subvert forensic science practices for the purpose of framing people in the courts. A leading forensic scientist, Ann Irwin, has complained that police officers had for many years attempted to coerce forensic scientists into tampering with forensic evidence. How many people are now serving sentences as a result of PSNI contaminated forensic evidence? Furthermore, former CID sergeant Johnston Brown, has claimed that the police have used "serial killers" as informants and have ensured that no prosecutions were brought against them. Many of these people populate loyalist organisations and will not be brought to book for the crimes they perpetrate on those they regard as nationalists or unfortunate members of their 'own' community.

Last month a member of Ogra Shinn Féin was arrested by the PSNI and charged with taking a photograph of a protest by his colleagues at Omagh barracks. Pat Doherty claimed that it was an act of political policing carried out by ‘heavily armed PSNI thugs.’ It seems to be an attempt by the force to do as they attempted with the Blanket in July of this year - suppress and obstruct news coverage of events that is not in tandem with their own account. Doherty, unfortunately, learned nothing from Pastor Martin Niemoller, otherwise he would have spoken out earlier before they came for him or his party. A sign of things to come even with a nationalist justice minister. On message nationalists will be protected, the cops can take the hindmost.

The PSNI pose a serious threat to civil liberties. Because the conflict is no longer as intense, the imperative to behave as it did before its name change is not as striking. But it retains from the days of old what functions, illegal and otherwise, it needs to repress. The forces needed to hold policing to account are diminishing by the day. Society without an opposition is a totalitarian nightmare.



Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

17 December 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


An Autopsy on the Provos
Sandy Boyer


The PSNI Threat

Anthony McIntyre


Seize the Opportunity, Seize the Moment
Liam O Ruairc


Happy Xmas from Little England
Eamon Sweeney


Dublin Cover-up Was Government Policy
Father Sean Mc Manus


Warm (Flat) Earth
Michael Youlton


13 December 2003


The Right Road to Power
Anthony McIntyre


University Challenge

Seaghán Ó Murchú


Money Talks
Mick Hall


Bloody Sunday Inquiry
Liam O Comain


Stalemate for the GFA
Paul Mallon


The GFA and Other Fairystories
Proinsias O'Loinsaigh


Dies IRAe
Ruth Dudley Edwards


Conversion of Constantine
Terry O'Neill


Republican Prisoner Attacked in Hydebank YOC



Civil Rights Veterans on Prison Situation
October 5th Association




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices