Saturday, 24 July 2010

Sinn Féin - trying to be simultaneously establishment and anti-establishment doesn't work.

In a column in yesterday's Irish News (as ever paywall and facsimile in situ) I considered the recent violence in Belfast.
Our traditional summer riots this year acquired added menace due to the close involvement of dissident republicans.  Using the Orange marching season as their pretext, paramilitary groups orchestrated violence in several areas, marshalling an army of young foot soldiers, distinguished by their loathing for the police, and dismissed by Sinn Féin as ’anti-social elements’.  Despite this direction by shadowy forces, and the obvious parallels with trouble from another era, recent events have a distinct modern edge.   Between cameramen - who jostle with the rioters - helicopters and mobile phones, the latest disorder in North Belfast was captured for posterity from every conceivable angle.  
These are the ‘Youtube riots’ of a new generation and a proliferation of amateur video merely focuses yet another spotlight on the Police Service of Northern Ireland.  The PSNI was already arguably the most scrutinised police force in the world.  In the face of fierce rioting, it is certainly the most restrained.  
I argued that the PSNI is hampered in its attempts to police nationalist areas by Sinn Féin's attempt to be, simultaneously, anti-establishment and of the establishment.

Despite the intense provocation and acute danger it faced, the PSNI’s response remained resolutely proportionate.  Remarkably, in the teeth of serious threats to the safety of its officers, the force refused to lose sight of the wellbeing of rioters. 
This new sensitive approach to policing in Northern Ireland represents, to one end of the political spectrum, the civilising of a brutal militia, to the other it marks the emasculation of law and order.  Most people simply recognise that enormous strides have been made towards providing a police service acceptable to the broadest possible cross-section of the community.  
Nevertheless, the PSNI remains hamstrung in its attempts to police republican areas by half-hearted backing from Sinn Féin.  Its journey on policing has been remarkable, but the party still feels comfortable only when it holds the force to account, and unnerved when it offers genuine support.  Witness Gerry Kelly’s eagerness to condemn a limited number of baton rounds fired by officers last week.  
This antiestablishment ethos appears ever more ludicrous with Sinn Féin firmly entrenched as a fixture of UK regional government.  It also feeds traditional antipathy toward the security forces and makes it easier for dissidents to furnish so-called ‘recreational rioting’ with its hard political edge.  
Politics provide the violence with its peculiar venom and politics allow dissidents to harness youthful rebellion, but Holy Cross parish priest Fr Gary Donegan correctly identifies that there are more conventional factors at play.  The rebellious undercurrent which breeds disdain for police is not confined to nationalist areas.  The walls of loyalist neighbourhoods are often adorned with graffiti warning ‘police touts’ of possible violent consequences.  Further afield, tens of thousands of Facebook fans felt moved to hail ’kop killer’ Raoul Moat as a ‘legend‘, after he gunned down an officer in the North East of England.  
The potential for general disaffection to spill over into violence toward the police, is not exclusive to Northern Ireland.  The circumstances which allow terrorists to turn that disaffection into an ongoing deadly threat are more unusual.  And the intense critical scrutiny, under which the PSNI must counteract that threat, is more or less unique.  
Last week’s disorder raises issues around personal and parental responsibility which politicians cannot reasonably be expected to address.  The context of alienation, deprivation and boredom that surrounds young rioters, however, is exacerbated by an ineffective Assembly and an inactive Executive.  
Policing riots would be much easier were Sinn Féin to back the PSNI properly, and drop a chippy, anti-establishment posturing which becomes more absurd with each passing year.  Condemning violence, and maintaining a presence on the ground, is all very well, but the Shinners need to be consistent. 

7 comments:

michaelhenry said...

SINN FEIN, are the best law and order party on the island,
none of the unionist political partys are involved with the police in england, scotland or wales, so much for being british law supporters,
SINN FEIN is the only party in IRELAND involved with the police across the 32 counties.

the p.s.n.i was not hardline last week because they now patrol the streets alone,
the armed brit army was removed, by the peace force,
its nice to be nice, when the armed brit army is no longer watching your back,

the hoods with man u masks, also notice the armed brits away, they now come out to beat their chests,
to just go against the police,
the sign of a coward
the sign of the dissidents.

rutherford said...

They don't really know where to stand.

The 'change' they've pursued seems to have wiped their line in the sand away before they themselves were able to move their supporters back from it.

homeinchitown said...

It is true that policing limitations during times of riotous free-for-alls are bad for both the unionist and nationalist communities alike. I think, however, it is a gross over-simplification to suggest that this is directly the fault of Sinn Fein policies toward The Establishment.

Police forces around the world, in every civilized country on the planet, are "hamstringed by history." Neither side of a political divide wants to see the other guy get a baton to the back or rock to the head, if for no other reason than it is just bad press for their side. And this is why police everywhere, not just the PSNI, are forced to stand down and dodge the mayhem--and more importantly, the political fallout. If it's any consolation, I can assure you that even here in the US, where the "inalienable right" of freedom of assembly granted by the First Amendment often trumps public safety and good sense, police forces are usually left to do little but sit back and get caught in the crossfire from both sides.

That said, I can no more understand why Orangemen would want to parade down streets in nationalist neighborhoods in Belfast than why the Ku Klux Klan would want to hold a rally on the south side of Chicago. I think we can all agree that such actions are not the exercise of free speech, they are willful acts of incitement that have little or nothing to do with lofty notions of "cultural identity" and "celebrating one's history."

The fact that a sizable portion of the citizens of NI still insist on such bigoted, anti-social displays--and that your own government doggedly refuses to address this fact, except through sound bytes and political posturing every year this time--is the problem. Sinn Fein is decidedly and historically REACTIVE; the government of Northern Ireland, despite great strides in the post-GFA years, is decidedly and historically INACTIVE. Power-sharing seems to have done little to overcome the age-old inertia that grips Stormont. And ALL parties seem equally complicit in this.

As a side note, these marches do very little to further the unionist cause on the global stage. If anything, they seem to justify the historical distrust of Sinn Fein particularly, and northern nationalists in general, of the powers that be. Much to the dismay of the NI Tourist Board it is unlikely, at anytime in the foreseeable future, that the Twelfth will ever be viewed by outsiders as a "festive" occasion.

homeinchitown said...

It is true that policing limitations during times of riotous free-for-alls are bad for both the unionist and nationalist communities alike. I think, however, it is a gross over-simplification to suggest that this is directly the fault of Sinn Fein policies toward The Establishment.

Police forces around the world are "hamstringed by history." Neither side of a political divide wants to see the other guy get a baton to the back or rock to the head, if for no other reason than it is just bad press for their side. And this is why police everywhere, not just the PSNI, are forced to stand down and dodge the mayhem--and more importantly, the political fallout. If it's any consolation, I can assure you that even here in the US the "inalienable right" of freedom of assembly granted by the First Amendment often trumps public safety and good sense and police forces are usually left to do little but sit back and get caught in the crossfire.

That said, I can no more understand why Orangemen would want to parade down streets in nationalist neighborhoods in Belfast than why the Ku Klux Klan would want to hold a rally on the south side of Chicago. I think we can all agree that such actions are not the exercise of free speech, they are willful acts of incitement that have little or nothing to do with lofty notions of "cultural identity" and "celebrating one's history."

The fact that a sizable portion of the citizens of NI still insist on such bigoted, anti-social displays--and that your own government doggedly refuses to address this fact, except through sound bytes and political posturing every year this time--is the problem. Sinn Fein is decidedly and historically REACTIVE; the government of Northern Ireland, despite great strides in the post-GFA years, is decidedly and historically INACTIVE. Power-sharing seems to have done little to overcome the age-old inertia that grips Stormont. And ALL parties seem equally complicit in this.

As a side note, these marches do very little to further the unionist cause on the global stage. If anything, they seem to justify the historical distrust of Sinn Fein particularly, and northern nationalists in general, of the powers that be. Much to the dismay of the NI Tourist Board it is unlikely, at anytime in the foreseeable future, that the Twelfth will ever be viewed by outsiders as a "festive" occasion.

Xena B said...

It is true that policing limitations during times of riotous free-for-alls are bad for both the unionist and nationalist communities alike. I think, however, it is a gross over-simplification to suggest that this is directly the fault of Sinn Fein policies toward The Establishment.

Police forces around the world are "hamstringed by history." Neither side of a political divide wants to see the other guy get a baton to the back or rock to the head, if for no other reason than it is just bad press for their side. And this is why police everywhere, not just the PSNI, are forced to stand down and dodge the mayhem--and more importantly, the political fallout. If it's any consolation, I can assure you that even here in the US the "inalienable right" of freedom of assembly granted by the First Amendment often trumps public safety and good sense and police forces are usually left to do little but sit back and get caught in the crossfire.

That said, I can no more understand why Orangemen would want to parade down streets in nationalist neighborhoods in Belfast than why the Ku Klux Klan would want to hold a rally on the south side of Chicago. I think we can all agree that such actions are not the exercise of free speech, they are willful acts of incitement that have little or nothing to do with lofty notions of "cultural identity" and "celebrating one's history."

The fact that a sizable portion of the citizens of NI still insist on such bigoted, anti-social displays--and that your own government doggedly refuses to address this fact, except through sound bytes and political posturing every year this time--is the problem. Sinn Fein is decidedly and historically reactive; the government of Northern Ireland, despite great strides in the post-GFA years, is decidedly and historically inactive. Power-sharing seems to have done little to overcome the age-old inertia that grips Stormont. And ALL parties seem equally complicit in this.

As a side note, these marches do very little to further the unionist cause on the global stage. If anything, they seem to justify the historical distrust of Sinn Fein particularly, and northern nationalists in general, of the powers that be. Much to the dismay of the NI Tourist Board it is unlikely, at anytime in the foreseeable future, that the Twelfth will ever be viewed by outsiders as a "festive" occasion.

thedissenter said...

Republicans are all over the place. Ardoyne is a divided and embittered community where Sinn Fein and its detractors seek to claim advantage over each other while all the rest of us can do is watch the unpretty spectacle evolve.

Xena B said...

Sorry for the double posts! The "Xena B" comment is the re-post after realizing that I could sign in with my Google ID...feel free to delete or ignore...