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Speech by Gerry Kelly (SF), delivering the Policing Report to the Sinn Féin Extraordinary Ard Fheis on Policing, RDS, Dublin, (28 January 2007)

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Text: Gerry Kelly... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by Gerry Kelly, then Sinn Féin Justice and Policing Spokesperson (SF), delivering the Policing Report to the Sinn Féin Extraordinary Ard Fheis on Policing, RDS, Dublin, (28 January 2007)


"Cé go bhfuil an díospóireacht tabhactach seo inniu ar cheist phoílíneachta agus ceartas, caithfidh muid bheith soiléir go bhfuil sé dírithe, mar atá gach díospoíreacht dírithe, ar an phríomh cuspóir s'againn sé sin Éire saor, neamhspleach agus aontaithe.

Éire úr ina mbeidh comhinannas in achan gné den saol, ní amháin i bpóilíneacht.

Although this very crucial debate today is on policing and justice lets be clear that all our debates, all our activity is about achieving our primary goal of a free, independent and united Ireland. An Ireland of equals in all areas of life, not just in policing.

We have a strategy to achieve our goals and the yardstick by which to measure our progress. They are our strategic objectives which can be summarised as:

Popularise our struggle: in essence creating more Irish republicans who will support and be active in our struggle.

International support: that is creating support for our struggle outside Ireland. The purpose is to bring back resources whether that is financial, political or public support.

The cohesion and integrity of republican organisations: we are the envy of other struggles throughout the world for our ability to thrash important issues out, take bold decisions and to move on united. Let us be clear that what ever our collective decision today, we will move on together united and strong.

Making positive alliances with others: the best example I can think of this is when the Patten Commission published its 175 recommendations. We stated, after studying them that if implemented they could form the threshold for a new beginning to policing. By the time the recommendations appeared in legislation they were unrecognisable. Those who had abused policing and justice for generations had removed the power and the bite from the Patten recommendations.

Although the SDLP voted for this bill in Westminster we stood firm. We argued for Patten and called for nationalist to support us. In the second vote the SDLP abstained and in the third they voted against this very flawed policing Act.

We pursued a campaign and a negotiation for a second policing Act which would truly reflect Patten. At this point we had moved the SDLP, the Irish government and indeed the hierarchy of the Catholic Church onto our ground, on this issue.

You may remember the accusation from the media and unionists of a pan-nationalist front. For the short period when there was nationalist unity on this issue we had of course much more strength and weight to use in negotiations. We achieved a second policing Act and a second Justice Act which more fully reflected Patten's recommendations. The point is that while we had that alliance albeit with reluctances amongst our opponents we were able to achieve so much more. That is a positive alliance.

Avoiding negative alliances: the flip side of the same coin is negative alliances. If all opponents unite against us then our struggle is in a weaker position. So there is a need to avoid political isolation. The best way to avoid that is to make sure that more and more people understand, accept and support our strategy. We need to break down the arguments of our opponents thus attempting to prevent our opponents welding together against us.

If I was to sum up these strategic objectives in one phrase it would be "political strength". If we had all the political strength we need, British interference in our country would be long gone and we would already have a united Ireland.

We haven't as yet, enough political strength so we need to build that strength throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. Are we capable of achieving that? Who would doubt it? Our opponents North and South don't doubt it when they see the continuous growth of Sinn Féin especially over the last 10 years North and South.

Sin an fath go bhfuil muid uilig ag plé na ceiste seo.

It is into this context that we must have the debate here today.

Sinn Féin's position on policing in the 6 counties is well known. We want:-

  • - Legislation to enable transfer of powers away from Britain and into Ireland.
  • - Time-frame and the detail of powers to be transferred.
  • - Agreement on the model for a Justice department, and
  • - The issue of MI5 in policing.

Intensive negotiations took place, mainly with the British government up to and right through Christmas with particular focus on Policing and Justice and the setting up of the political institutions. A key objective for us was to bring the DUP across the line into power-sharing which they have fought so long against - but to do that within the Good Friday Agreement.

On the issues I have just outlined, comrades should know that:-

  • - Legislation for transfer of power has been passed.
  • - Powers to be transferred have been substantially agreed.
  • - The model for a Justice department put forward by the British government to the political parties substantially reflects Sinn Féin's model.
  • - There is a timeframe for transfer of May 2008 in the British government model, with a commitment that the British government "would take the necessary steps to ensure that the timescale for devolution was not delayed".
  • - There is a new statement on MI5 setting out in detail that MI5 will have no role in civic policing in the North.

MI5 ran the death squads for over 30 years. They implemented the British state policy of collusion and terror. They targeted and killed hundreds of nationalist, republicans and many, many others. Sinn Fein was one of their primary targets.

At St Andrews, the British government proposed the integration of MI5 and the PSNI. The SDLP not only accepted this, they claimed to have negotiated it and told us that the integration of MI5 and the PSNI was a victory for their negotiators.


It was a fundamental mistake.

Sinn Féin immediately moved to reverse this stated policy. Why? Because it was a recipe for another "force within a force" a recipe for more collusion like that unearthed in the McCord investigation.

This issue became core to our Christmas negotiations. We argued with the British that not only would we not accept it but neither would the nationalist people. We argued and achieved complete separation between civic policing and MI5. That PSNI officers could not serve two masters; that they must at all times be answerable to the accountability mechanisms outlined in Patten and hard won over years of tough negotiations. We won that crucial battle.

Not only should MI5 have no place in civic policing it should have no place in our country North or South. However, we are not naive. We know that while British jurisdiction exists anywhere in Ireland so will MI5. They will leave our country with the rest of the British establishment but in the meantime they will be kept outside civic policing.

There were other issues on the agenda at the negotiations with the British. Finally resolving the plight of the OTR's and their families is consistently being raised. Since Peter Hain made a mess of the legislation to sort it out there has been progress and we will persist until the commitment given publicly by the British government on this issue is fulfilled.

The long standing issue of plastic bullets was consistently raised and we have been dealing with the families in the anti-plastic bullet campaign. We have not yet achieved a complete ban on the use of plastic bullets yet but will continue, along with the families and friends of those killed and injured, to pursue that goal. However, we did achieve a significant advance in the public statement by Hugh Orde that they "will not be used for the purpose of pubic order/crowd control". Also in his statement is, for the first time, a public acknowledgement of the hurt caused to the families involved by the British government.

As I said earlier, we will continue to support the families and fight for a total ban on these lethal weapons.

This brings me back round to political strength. It can reasonably be asked of the republican negotiators - well why did you not achieve a complete ban on plastic bullets or sort all OTR's or achieve a "routinely unarmed force at this time". The honest answer comrades, is political strength. We need more and in my view the decision we make here today on the motion in front of us will make a huge difference to our ability to gain in strength and to use it.

So let me finish briefly by making a few points.

Society needs proper policing. We stayed outside until now to get the tools to make change. We now have the tools; in fact we have far, far better accountability mechanisms in the North than in the South. Justice does not come as a miracle or a gift, when we achieve a united Ireland - we have to prepare beforehand, we have to prepare now.

After getting this far we cannot leave this fundamental arena to be dominated by unionists who have dominated the same area for generations - and we especially cannot exclude ourselves. Every arena that Irish republicans have entered they have made radical change for the benefit of ordinary people. This is no different.

There is no good time, comrades, but now is the best time.

We have the confidence and the ability to help create a new beginning to policing which is free from partisan political control, representative of the whole community and accountable to the whole community.

I said 5 years ago that we would get to this point. I appeal to all delegates to realise that we have reached that point and to back this motion.

Lig dúinn sa cheannaireacht seo, tabhair cead dúinn inniu in éineacht leis an phobal, an streachailt a thiomaint ar aghaidh.

Let us empower this leadership and our people to drive the struggle onward. This is about achieving a united and independent Ireland, this comrades brings that closer".


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