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Sunday 9 January 2005

No room for fudge: it's a case of crime and punishment

CHIEF Constable Hugh Orde is a better politician than he is a policeman, which is why the PSNI is less effective than was the RUC. 

He was appointed to make the police more republican-friendly, so as to help the peace process by coaxing Sinn Fein onto the policing board. Pattenised to within an inch of its life, the PSNI now majors on caring, sharing and politically-correct corporate management-speak, rather than nailing villains, and it strives hard not to hurt the feelings of paramilitaries. 

Officers are expected to allow rioters to inflict grievous injuries on their men and women rather than order the firing of plastic bullets, informers are kept at arm's length, and many of the wise old cops who knew their patch have taken early retirement. 

It was poor intelligence that let the Northern Bank heist happen and it is over-regulation and political nervousness that have been hindering the hunting down of the perpetrators. 

In a world in which Denis Bradley, the nationalist vice-chairman of the policing board, can say "I have yet to meet a former or present republican who doesn't believe that the IRA did this job," the credibility of the PSNI was on the line. Though Orde and his political masters struggled to avoid fingering the Provos, the pressure to come clean became irresistible. 

Despite all the sweaty, weasely denials from Martin McGuinness, the world believes Orde. Indeed McGuinness's bluster descended into farce when he accused Sir Joe Pilling, the Permanent Secretary of the Northern Ireland Office, who has been labouring for years to keep the peace process ball in the air, of being leader of a securocrat anti-Sinn Fein movement. I wish. 

So now, where are we? 

Cheeringly, a dollop of reality too big to ignore has landed on the doorsteps of the starry-eyed. Even the Irish Times, cheerleaders for the peace-at-any-price brigade, have finally cottoned on. "Do they take us democrats, North and South of the Border, for complete fools?" yesterday's editorial gasped. (Actually, yes they do, and who can blame them?) "We have been conned, those of us North and South of the island, who were urging Sinn Fein and the IRA to do the deal of deals with the Democratic Unionist Party." 

For the IRA to have been planning the robbery at the same time that Adams and McGuinness were negotiating the final acts of completion with the two governments "just beggars belief". Huh? How soon they forget. These are the same guys who were planning the blowing up of Canary Wharf as Clinton was shaking hands with Adams in the Falls Road. 

The Irish Times, newly bellicose, is shocked that Bertie Ahern expressed disappointment rather than outrage or a determination to lock up the criminals. "That mindset cannot last." 

So what should happen? Ah, finished the leader threateningly, "The breach of trust with the democratic community is so serious this time that both governments have to take stock of the peace process." 

Oh, stop laughing, Martin. Yes, we all know that that usually means waggling a finger before offering you new concessions, but this time maybe things are a little different. 

One major change is that no unionists can possibly negotiate with Sinn Fein with the IRA still in business. The DUP 'bring-on-the-Mercs' brigade (Peter Robinson and Jeffrey Donaldson) have been badly wounded. But for Ian Paisley's insistence on photographs of decommissioning, the deal would have been done and they would now be reeling in the face of a betrayal worse than anything David Trimble endured. 

Yet the Doc should be ashamed rather than self-satisfied, for he knows that if given enough to satisfy their grassroots, the DUP was united on a strategy of colluding with Sinn Fein in the Balkanisation of Northern Ireland, which is why they showed not the faintest interest in making criminality an issue. 

As far as the DUP was concerned, if the IRA wanted to rob and steal and mutilate its people and corrupt the South as they have corrupted the North, that was a problem for Taigs. Yet it is the criminality that has sunk a cosy deal. 

Bertie Ahern didn't seem too bothered either, until the Garda McCabe issue blew up in his face, this newspaper flagged up IRA criminality, the PDs and then other parties ran with it so noisily that the IRA's refusal to guarantee that its members would not "endanger anyone's personal rights and safety" (well, dash it, that would have interfered with them kidnapping people and holding them hostage) could not be brushed under the peace-process carpet. 

On RTE on Thursday night, Michael McDowell spoke forcefully of there no longer being any room for fudge, nuance or semantics. "There is no grey area left any more," he said, and there was no place in politics or democracy for anyone with any connection with any paramilitary organisation. Mary Harney followed this up by saying that the new revelation raised "profound questions about the stated commitments of Sinn Fein and the IRA to democracy and the law of the land". 

It's all up to Bertie now. As Taoiseach of a sovereign nation and hero of the EU, he has once again been lied to and humiliated by small-town terrorists and criminals. He has everything going for him: the Irish people and even the Irish Times are now in the mood to cheer a crackdown, the White House would back him and, as there is no longer any possibility of going into coalition with Sinn Fein, keeping the PDs sweet is a major priority. 

Tony Blair just wants Northern Ireland out of his in-tray, but it's in Bertie's power to persuade him to agree to an all-Ireland anti-IRA offensive and serious punishment of SF - possibly even their exclusion from the Assembly. 

This is Bertie's big chance to show us if he's really a statesman, a worthy successor of de Valera, or if, at heart, he remains the ward boss who just wants to be loved.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards