Ten Years of the PSNI- What has changed?


This year marks the ten year anniversary of the continuity RUC/PSNI with former Chief Constable Hugh Orde once referring to the force as the ‘most democratic, accountable police service in the world.’ However, despite the cosmetic changes and window dressing the reality on the ground in working class communities is in stark contrast to the propaganda media blitz waged by the status-quo.



Since 2001, we have witnessed the devolving of policing and justice powers to the Stormont executive under David Ford, Alliance MLA, the ending of the controversial 50/50 recruitment policy with Catholics now making up for around a third of the total police force; the establishment of a new MI5 headquarters at Hollywood which is effectively the central intelligence agency for the North. In recent months we have witnessed the independence of the Police Ombudsman, Al Hutchinson surrounding the mishandling of sensitive and confidential information into historical enquiries such as collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces.  As a result he will now resign ahead of schedule.

In November, the PSNI backtracked after publicly announcing their intention to arrest human rights lawyer and defender of republican suspects Peter Corrigan, over spurious charges which according to the Irish Law and Democracy Committee were ’a serious threat to human rights culture…. an act of blatant intimidation against defence lawyers per se, who are an integral part of the checks and balances against state abuse of power by those such as the police.’

This is just part of a general pattern emerging under the guise of ‘combating the dissident threat’ which has been covered by the WSM in recent months. From the continuing use of child informants to the closing down of a face book site exposing police harassment, stop and search operation against the RNU in which children as young as 5 were subjected up to fours hours of detention to widespread systematic use of stop and search powers. Solid support from unionist political parties for the forces of 'law and order' also hides their failure to deliver on the ground masking a significant level of mistrust and disillusionment within protestant working class communities.

Police complaints are on the rise up 11% since last year with young males the most likely age group to make a complaint. The Police Ombudsman office has received 16,000 complaints in the last five years. Almost 50% of these were from men under the age of 45. Just over a quarter of complainants said that they had a disability and 11% were not born in Northern Ireland.

The de-deployment of up to 400 former RUC officers through employment agencies into the ranks of the PSNI including the already 4,331 PSNI officers which have also been RUC officers represents 60% of the PSNI. The retention and systematic use of anti-terror legislation and lethal weapons such as plastic bullets to criminalise and crush any opposition bears all the hallmarks of a police force fit for purpose in the 21st century as efficient guardians of the status-quo.

The District Policing Partnerships (DPPs) have been a central pillar in this ’normalisation’ strategy and were set up by the Policing Board in conjunction with local councils in early 2003 as part of the ‘new policing dispensation’ under the Patton agreement in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement. Along with the establishment of an ‘independent’ police ombudsman and a policing board to scrutinise the actions of the Chief Constable, a DPP;
“Is a meaningful partnership between the district council, councillors and representatives of the local community for the purpose of monitoring the effectiveness of policing in that area. Also, the DPP will act as a forum for discussion and consultation on matters affecting the policing of the district, which it is responsible for. This will include, for example, the prioritisation of policing issues on behalf of local people.”

In short, DPPs are an attempt by the state and its agencies to build co-operation and strengthens its foothold in working-class communities particularly of a nationalist/republican persuasion who have been in direct conflict, and on the receiving end of state violence. These policing developments in terms of the wider ‘political stability’ and restoration of local political institutions at Stormont; eventual active participation of Sinn Fein and others in these structures have provided an illusion of state ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’ and the green light to isolate and criminalise any ‘dissenters.’

They are a ‘talking shop’ with no legislative authority and designed to gloss over the inherent irreconcilable cracks and contradictions in the system. Rather than real ownership and empowerment, input by local residents in DPPs is limited to asking questions as a spectator, reinforcing our sense of dependency, powerlessness the division between the ruled and rulers; workers and bosses.

For example, Section 5.12 of its own Code of Conduct gives the District Policing Commander the power to refuse to answer any questions during a public meeting on the wide scope of ‘national security’ which basically translates into British ruling class interests. How many imperialist wars of plunder or recent curtailment of long-standing civil liberties including internment without trial have been justified in the interests of ‘national security’?

A mere reflection of our class based capitalist society in which we are allowed to pick a ruler every 4 years. Doing what the state does best- co-opting and pacify dissent along reformist and harmless channels that would otherwise be expressed in militant opposition on the streets which we witnessed in other parts of the UK in June this year triggered by a police murder.


Poachers turn Game Keepers- Policing is Political

 The transition from opposition to defenders and enforces of the status-quo by the provisional republican movement has not been without its hiccups along the way which is what you would expect with a path littered with hypocrisy and broken promises. Writing in the Belfast Telegraph Sinn Fein’s National Chairperson Declan Kearney referred to the ’dark side’ of policing and warned his party’s support for the police is ‘not unconditional,’ which is merely mantra to cover up growing discontent and disillusionment within republican heartlands as they are now the game-keepers lock, stock and barrel. 

 The fact that Sinn Fein prefer to grovel to the mainstream media everytime the PSNI hit an own goal and step out of line only highlights the ineffectiveness of holding the police to account in the various policing boards. Instead of ’putting manners’ on the police, the Sinniers are now part of the problem and a victim of their own success. The result of embarking along the cul-de-sac of reformism as the infamous anarchist Alexander Berkman warned nearly a century ago; 
“With growing success in elections and securing political power they turn more and more conservative and content with existing conditions. Removal from the life and suffering of the working class, living in the atmosphere of the bourgeoisie . . . they have become what they call 'practical'. . . Power and position have gradually stifled their conscience and they have not the strength and honesty to swim against the current. . They have become the strongest bulwark of capitalism."

 Ironically, there was always a case for the provisional movement joining the state policing structures, considering their armed wing policed working-class communities with brute force akin to establishing its thuggish authority and showing who's boss than sorting out ‘anti-social behaviour’. In the end the truth is they might as well get paid for the job they already do. Emerging from the shadows are republican groups intent on filling this vacuum and following in the path of their predecessors.

The provisional republican movement’s gradual embrace of the state’s mechanism on ‘law and order’ can be traced to the origins political peace process and its involvement in Community Restorative Justice Schemes in the 1990s. This was based on some level of co-operation in terms of dialogue and funding from state statutory agencies. As a result of the threat they posed to the legitimacy of the status-quo in the long-term, these schemes have either been fully incorporated into the criminal justice system or under the direct control of armed groups. Therefore undermining the very essence of their independence serving to recuperate dissent. 

A stronger, more militant and confident working class will be able to and must, take on responsibility for tackling anti-social crime in its own communities as part of wider independent movement, because the police won’t do it and are complicit due to the very nature of capitalism and the state. No amount of token reforms, ‘sexy’ makeover, and government from Dublin, Stormont or London can disguise this fundamental role of the security forces or if you live on the Falls or the Shankill. Playing the green and orange card does not come into it as James Connolly referred to the fact- that there would be little difference if the unemployed were rounded up ’to the tune of ’St.Patrick’s Day’ and the bailiffs wore ’green uniforms and the Harp without the crown, and the warrant turning you out on the road will be stamped with the arms of the Irish Republic.’

Unlike republicans, we don’t oppose the states armed forces because they are 'British' although we recognise the colonial legacy of policing in Ireland and it being on the frontline of British Government policy counter-insurgency policies such as 'normalisation' and 'ulsterisation'. The primary role of the police as the armed wing of the state is to defend and protect the wealth and power of the ruling class whether it be in Soviet Russia or here. In the words of the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin ‘When the people are being beaten with a stick, they are not much happier if it is called "the People's Stick" sums up the basic anarchist position.

We should not succumb to populist quick-fix calls for ‘zero-tolerance’, or 'more police on the streets' providing the green light for an intensification in police brutality which ebbs and flows depending on the intensity of class conflict and balance of forces as we have witnessed in the occupy movement particularly in the US and during the Arab Spring.

A critical element in this struggle in the short-term involves exposing and highlighting police brutality through organising public meetings and independent groups based in our communities that will expose and oppose police harassment.

The Queens University Republican Congress held a public meeting in November on Political Policing in Ireland- Ten Years of the RUC/PSNI which was addressed by Ciaran Murphy(RNU), Stephen Murney(Eirigi) and Chris Donnelly(RC/IRSP). While meetings such as these represent an important step forward highlighting police harassment we need to bring these type meetings into our communities at the coalface and not just confine ourselves to one community or the needs of political activists if we are to have any hope building a mass movement that links all these struggles together.

We must demonstrate through our actions and methods that only by collectively organising, practicing solidarity where we live and work as a class can we begin to tackle and remove the scourge of ‘anti-social crime’ and the real crime of capitalism.

“The police are not concerned about protecting me or any of the working class, because they are put here by the ruling class to protect the interests of the rich from the poor. To enforce their laws that keep together their system, that keeps them at the top and the majority at the bottom”.

WORDS: Sean Matthews

Some previous articles covering the PSNI and the police/crime generally.