By Jamie Bryson
The FOI request reveals that in its four years of existence, the Paramilitary Crime Task Force has not issued a single statement with the word ‘IRA’ or ‘PIRA’. This stands in stark contrast to 62 statements in relation to loyalists.
Despite not being asked to do so, the FOI response sought to provide some justification for the apparent immunity granted to PIRA, by including a line saying “the PCTF investigates paramilitarism and not issues relating to Northern Ireland Related Terrorism”.
This sentence on a prima facie basis appears to suggest that PIRA crime is not within the remit of the PCTF because PIRA are a terrorist organisation. This is as bizarre as it is illogical. Every organisation pursued by the PCTF is proscribed under the Terrorism Act. Is it really the PSNI assertion that loyalist crime is pursuable via the PCTF, but PIRA crime is somehow ‘political’ or national security related?
It would seem from the PSNI’s response that even PIRA crime is afforded a special status; hence the de facto immunity when it comes to the work of the PCTF.
However, aside from illuminating (as if any more evidence was needed) the two tier nature of policing in general and more specifically the PCTF, there is a fatal contradiction at the heart of the PSNI’s assertion that the PSNI do not investigate Terrorism.
Within the past two months alone the PCTF have obtained 24 warrants under Schedule 5 of the Terrorism Act, and activated 24 arrests using the powers within Section 41 of the Terrorism Act. All these warrants and arrests were directed solely against the loyalist community.
On any analysis of the facts, it seems the PCTF do in fact investigate ‘terrorism’ when it suits their overarching political agenda. There is no other explanation as to why a Task Force which justifies a failure to take any action against PIRA crime by relying on PIRA’s proscribed status, simultaneously deploys Terrorism Act powers against proscribed loyalist organisations.
The clear contradiction raises questions for policing which they really must explain to the unionist and loyalist community. It is they who have illuminated this issue via their own FOI, and so it is they who must now explain why the PCTF claim they have no power to investigate Terrorism, but persistently pursue loyalists using the Terrorism Act?
Nowhere within the Fresh Start Agreement- which came about in response to two IRA murders- does it exclude PIRA from ‘tackling paramilitarism’, however in line with the pre-determined trajectory of the ‘peace process’, as ever PIRA are afforded special treatment.
The whole structure of ‘Fresh Start’ was a ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’ approach. There was significant ‘community’ funding (the carrot), alongside funding for ‘enforcement’ (the stick). Despite PIRA having immunity from enforcement, they nevertheless- via their front groups- significantly benefited from the community funding.
This follows the trajectory of another EU ‘peace project’ whereby around £1.5 million was allocated to be shared between ex-prisoner groups (both loyalist and republican), however whilst all the other ex-prisoner groups worked together in this project, PIRA got a project all of their own, administered via front groups, which allowed them to obtain almost a full £1.5 million.
That is not to say that the imbalance within policing was conceived within the Fresh Start agreement and given life by the PCTF; that particular agreement and policing task force simply followed the pre-ordained template of post-Patten policing.
This template necessitates that PIRA are to be legitimised and a blind eye turned to their criminal activity for the subjectively defined ‘greater good’ of the ‘process’, which is in of itself designed for the sole purpose of incrementally advancing nationalism’s key strategic objectives, with the final destination of an All-Ireland, pre-determined by the rigged architecture of the Belfast Agreement.
The HET was entirely one sided and biased against loyalism; the OTR scheme was a travesty of justice whereby policing and politics (who can forget former PSNI Superintendent Norman Baxter’s admission that the NIO “tamper with policing”) combined to provide an effective amnesty to PIRA terrorists; the Assets Recovery Agency was directed almost entirely against loyalists (one need only read the analysis of its former head, himself a former RUC ACC, Alan McQuillan); and now the PCTF simply follows the same two-tier approach.
And it is not only the operational policing side of the PSNI which displays a clear disparity, so too does the PSNI corporately in terms of engagement. Whilst the PSNI treat loyalists like second-class citizens, there is barely a week goes by whereby a senior IRA terrorist isn’t having tea and buns with the Chief Constable.
We see regular platform panels shared with senior republicans (only weeks before the IRA murdered Kevin McGuigan former Chief Constable George Hamilton was on a panel in West Belfast, with almost the entire IRA Army Council seated just behind the panel) whilst there is no such engagement with loyalists.
If the baseline of post-98 policing is supposed to be a Police Service which commands cross community support, then even this ideal has failed miserably. The support within the broad unionist community, and loyalism specifically, is rock bottom. I would of course argue post-patten policing- which was conceived in the womb of political appeasement- was designed this way.
Nevertheless, if the PSNI are genuine in seeking to command the support of all communities then there must be a willingness to put policing above politics and display a respect for the loyalist community and a desire to engage in the same manner as they engage with the republican community.