29th July 2005
The much welcomed statement from the IRA outlining its future will raise many questions for the other actors to the conflict and the potential role they must play to ensure a lasting peace settlement.
While there is no doubt the IRA has/d significant armoury at its disposal the British government has many branches to its armoury. Most obviously is the vast militarisation of nationalist and republican communities, and the continuation of its covert war, and the continued arming of the PSNI with plastic bullets. Less obvious, but more effective, are its weapons in the “system”. Some recent examples are the use of an unaccountable inquest system where the state itself was responsible or implicated in killings, the continued threat of the use of public interest immunity certificates in these courts, the continued dark force of unaccountability in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the ever pervasive influence of Special Branch within the PSNI, and the farcical idea of key Special Branch figures reviewing past killings, including killings in which the state itself was responsible or implicated.
The British Government interferes with all areas of due process when its role in the conflict is up for examination. The disgraceful interference in the Finucane Inquiry and the introduction of the Inquiries Bill is a damning example of how thoroughly the British government closes down systems of justice and accountability when it feels threatened. The new impetus and environment created by the IRA’s initiative must be used to ensure that the system is made accountable and that British interest can no longer take precedence over transparency and due process.
Part of this will be the creation of an inclusive and transparent process for acknowledging and dealing with our collective past. Many lessons will be learned from such a process, which will inform the future societal structure. All actors must grapple with this issue, especially the British government. The past cannot strangle our future but must inform it for peace to be sustained. Not only that, but the victims of past actions must have accountability and truth in order that they also can have a stake in the future.
Policing will be key debate in the coming weeks. Consent, support and participation are the key requirements to acceptable policing. These are currently missing. Key reasons are because truth and acknowledgment about shoot-to-kill, collusion and the use of plastic bullets are missing. There is an overwhelming legacy of impunity for state killings. Substantial change is required, and it must be based upon the lessons of our past.
The use of plastic bullets remains an outstanding issue and need to be removed now. The new PSNI cannot rely on old military tactics if it is to win the support and confidence of the nationalist community. Plastic bullets are an old military tactic. As we saw in Ardoyne so recently, plastic bullets are a weapon of political control. They pose horrific threat to innocent civilians. Modifications to this weapon make negligible difference. Tests done by the British government’s scientists cannot include an assessment of their impact on children, because they are too dangerous to test on children. But they introduced the weapon anyway under the guise of complying with the Patten Report.
Of the seventeen fatalities caused by plastic bullets nine of the victims were children, innocent victims killed in circumstances which were excused and covered up with words very like those used when current justification of plastic bullets are made. Millions of pounds of compensation have been paid to the living victims of plastic bullets who have suffered injuries which range from scarring, broken limbs, damaged and removed organs, blindness, to brain damage. Again a disproportionately high number of those compensated were children when injured.
New thinking on all areas of transition must include new thinking on policing methods. We are often asked, “well what’s the alternative” – and the people who ask us want another form of military technology with which to bolster an arms dealer’s coffers.
Of course we have never thought that there are military solutions or technologies which will provide resolution. Military policing methods are not what is needed. Dialogue (as we saw in Dunloy on 12th July), containment (such as we saw this week in East Belfast with the UVF/LVF), and community policing (which we all so desperately need on our streets and which projects like Community Restorative Justice highlight the potential) are the long-term answers.
These are far from easy solutions. They require much more patience, resources, training, planning and foresight. But they are the policing tactics that will win support and confidence.
Next week the families of the victims of plastic bullets will hold their annual vigil at the site of the former Andersonstown Barracks in Belfast. This vigil reminds us of the terrible price of the use of plastic bullets, it also reminds us that no one has been held accountable for these crimes. The demand for a ban on the use of plastic bullets is reiterated by all who attend. With the physical absence of the Barracks this space will be changed, for a change to policing to be meaningful much more needs to be done to give these families real peace i.e. a ban on plastic bullets, truth and acknowledgment. We encourage all to join us next Wednesday 3rd August at 6.30pm to make this demand heard at this historic time.
Relatives for Justice
United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets