By Moore Holmes
The PSNI and PPS non-action against 24 Sinn Fein members who attended IRA anarchist Bobby Storey’s funeral has damaged confidence in policing and justice. Has there ever been a more obvious example of Republican appeasement?
The funeral fiasco confirms what the Loyalist community has been alleging for some time. It is quite literally one rule for Sinn Fein and another for everyone else.
Why are Sinn Fein more privileged and protected than you or me? Why can they break the law with impunity and immunity?
By no means is this a new phenomenon. In general, our society has been remarkably willing, much to the frustration of Loyalists, to look the other way and reluctantly swallow the “special status” Sinn Fein enjoy. Only now, because Sinn Fein’s actions at Storey’s funeral are impossible to ignore are onlookers forced to re-evaluate the appeasement approach which has sewn this “peace process” together.
Two-tier policing allegations do not derive from Loyalist imagination or bias. There are a catalogue of questionable policing operations and interventions, throughout the past number of years, which have created the increasingly justified perception that Loyalists and Republicans do not receive equal treatment.
Two-tier policing allegations are double-edged. It accuses the PSNI of taking a light-touch approach to Republicanism, whereas the Loyalist community is dealt with heavy-handedly. “An orange baton in one hand and a green sponge in the other,” as one Loyalist put it me.
A pattern of pacifying Republicanism has emerged. Take for example Shankill bomber Sean Kelly. The IRA murderer visibly threatened and attacked someone with a weapon a month before Storey’s funeral. He too was not charged by the PPS on the grounds there was no “reasonable prospect of conviction for any offence.” This was despite video footage which showed him wildly wielding a stick and needing restrained by bystanders.
Another example is the now Sinn Fein Policing Board member Gerry Kelly MLA, who in 2013 after street disturbances in North Belfast stood in the middle of the road unlawfully obstructing a PSNI land rover without consequence.
More recently, and disturbingly, is the actions of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force. The policing unit was established in 2015 as a response to the PIRA murder of fellow PIRA member Kevin McGuigan. Since then, it has targeted every paramilitary organisation except for the paramilitary group responsible for its inception – the PIRA. How does one square that circle, other than concluding the PIRA and Sinn Fein are off-limits?
I heard it recently said that once is a surprise, twice is a coincidence, but three times is a pattern. How many more times must Sinn Fein IRA get a by-ball?
Contrast this pattern of pacifism toward Sinn Fein IRA with the litany of examples in which Loyalists have been aggressively or disproportionately confronted by the PSNI.
Consider in 2017, the five children who received minor injuries after a PSNI Officer used CS spray at a Junior Orange parade in South Belfast.
Thirty plus officers also moved in on and escorted a Loyalist band through the Apprentice Boys of Derry parade in 2019 because they wore an albeit controversial, but entirely legal symbol on their sleeve. Three members of which were stopped on their way home and cautioned. Add to this the heavy-handed approach the PSNI have taken to the demonstration at Twaddell, the flag protests and bonfires.
Additionally, as recent as February this year, the PSNI determined a Loyalist gathering in Pitt Park, East Belfast, warranted over twenty arrests using anti-terrorism law to charge and detain alleged attendees. Terrorism charges were instantly dropped following their arrest and all but three Loyalists were released on the same day they were detained. Investigations into Pitt Park give credence to the alarming allegation the PSNI are willing to abuse the law to tackle Loyalists and ignore the law to appease Republicans.
Then, of course, there is the PSNI’s enforcement of Covid regulations. Loyalists who attended street celebrations for Rangers winning the Scottish Premier League were questioned within a few days. This stands in stark contrast to Sinn Fein elected representatives, who the PSNI did not even interview until five months after Storey’s funeral. Why the disparity?
The PSNI is a product of the “peace process.” One of the reasons it was created was to increase confidence for policing within the Nationalist community (Sinn Fein only declared support for PSNI in 2007). It therefore comes as no surprise the PSNI continue to prioritise their perception and support within the Nationalist community regardless of the consequences.
This may provide an explanation for the two-tiered policing model outlined above. The PSNI rely on Sinn Fein and their “activists” for effective community policing in Republican neighbourhoods, whose commitment to the PSNI is largely contingent on Sinn Fein IRA endorsement. Determined action against Sinn Fein, and the IRA, would damage Nationalist confidence in policing and antagonise Republicans. There is an obvious incentive for the PSNI to appease Sinn Fein IRA and turn a blind eye, as opposed to grasping the nettle.
This approach shows no sign of change. What is changing however is public opinion. No longer are Loyalists alone in their outrage of Sinn Fein’s special status and two-tier policing and justice.
Loyalists who have repeatedly spoken out against two-tier policing will no doubt feel vindicated, but rather than saying “I told you so,” the Loyalists I have spoken to would much rather prefer an end to appeasement and the beginning of what has been so devastatingly lacking both in Northern Ireland policing and politics, accountability.
Unionist/Loyalist confidence in policing and justice is an all-time low because appeasement to Republicanism is at an all-time high. The following six action points could go some way to restoring confidence:
- Simon Brynes position as Chief Constable is untenable, as is every other officer who were directly involved in engaging with Sinn Fein prior to Bobby Storey’s funeral. All should resign immediately.
- Gerry Kelly MLA, described as a “senior Sinn Fein official” in the PPS report, should resign or be removed from the Policing Board.
- An independent enquiry should be commissioned, with legal authority to thoroughly investigate the Bobby Storey funeral.
- The Public Prosecution Service decision not to act against the 24 Sinn Fein members who broke Covid regulations should be reviewed and overturned.
- A thorough Ombudsmen investigation into the actions of PSNI Officers involved in detailed engagement with Sinn Fein in the planning of Bobby Storey’s funeral.
In the absence of such accountability actions political Unionism should withdraw from their positions on the Northern Ireland Policing Board and review their general approach toward the PSNI. If the culture of unaccountability remains, Loyalist confidence in policing and justice will remain rock-bottom. This will unquestionably damage neighbourhood policing and pose significant challenges in the months ahead, particularly with various summer cultural celebrations on the horizon. We are already seeing Loyalist groups declaring the phone is off the hook when it comes to PSNI engagement.
I have often described confidence in policing like a metro bus, at various stops throughout the past number of years Loyalists have been getting off, after the Bobby Storey funeral fiasco, it is hard to imagine there are many passengers left. Without considerable accountability action to rebalance policing and justice and end two-tier policing, the bus will remain empty.
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