by Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney
In an oration at the Easter commemoration in Milltown Cemetery in the late eighties, Martin McGuinness contended that punishment attacks were wrong, and he called on the IRA to desist from their use.
He urged the republican community to find alternative methods to deal with the undoubted problems that blighted republican and nationalist areas.
At the time it became the focus of much discussion and debate, most notably and pointedly within the republican activist base.
One of the dominant features of that debate was the fact that there was an absence of acceptable policing structures vis a vis, the RUC. That absence in itself placed an onus on republicans to deal with anti-community and criminal behaviour. Many republicans argued that whether they agreed with its use or not it was something that they were forced into using. However the harsh reality was and at times accepted with reluctance, punishment attacks did not bring to an end to the behaviour it sought to confront.
Importantly the debate on its use, its purpose and its consequence began, and began in earnest and republicans did not shy away from that debate.
Community activists who worked on a daily basis on this issue highlighted the direct relationship to poor social and community infrastructure and crime. They articulated the need for intervention and alternatives and that the blunt instrument that punishment attacks were could not resolve what was complex social issues.
Of course it was argued that they did provide quick fix remedies, that they were viewed as popular, but that said we could not delude ourselves that they were freeing our areas of crime.
However what remained very much part of the equation/problem was the non-acceptance of policing. The structure of policing and its outworking was designed to deal with republicans and nationalists within in a security and repressive framework. Political policing prevailed, and it polluted and undermined any possibility of cogent debate on the need for a different approach.
It is within this context that one appreciates the emphasis and focus Sinn Féin placed on the need for a New Beginning for Policing throughout the Peace Process and the consequent negotiation process. We sought to bring to an end to political policing and the dominance of securocrats in policing policy and actions and the establishment of a new civic policing service.
Any objective analysis of where policing was in mid 1980s when Martin McGuinness made his Easter speech to where it is in 2012 can only come to the conclusion that we are in an entirely different place.
Of course the picture is not perfect, but that serves as our reminder that all out collective attention and actions must be to deliver proper and accountable policing. Our task is to have a police service, which responds to the needs of the community it serves and to tackle and reduce crime.
In 2012 no organisation can say with any credibility that tackling or reducing crime can be achieved by resorting to physical force. It is patently out of touch with current realities.
Many people have consistently questioned the motivation of groups such as RAAD and do so with the weight of evidence and practical out working to support their viewpoint.
RAAD is now in existence for a number of years and it cannot stand apart and ignore the increasing support for Sinn Féin in election after election in those intervening years.
However even RAAD’s own stated claim is that it only exists because of the absence of acceptable policing and the PSNI’s inability to deal with drugs in our community doesn’t pass the test of public scrutiny.
In 2007 so-called dissident groups and individuals stated that Sinn Féin had called policing wrong. They stated that the republican leadership were out of touch and that this would be reflected in the Assembly election of that year. Indeed here in Derry an anti-policing candidate was fielded and across every shade of anti-Sinn Féin rhetoric a “united campaign” was mounted against our party’s position going into that election.
This was reflected in other areas across the North with candidates standing on an anti-Sinn Féin ticket. All failed to make an impact and this was in the crucible of a new dispensation.
Sinn Féin’s vote increased and we considerably consolidated our place as the largest party within nationalism.
Fast forward to the most recent Assembly election and note that there was not a single candidate either to reflect their opposition to Sinn Féin, much less on our position on policing.
This is another measure of whom the republican and nationalist communities look to for leadership and direction.
In relation to the extent of the drug problem in republican and nationalist communities, can anyone argue that we have less of a drug problem in Derry today than we had this time 12 months ago? Two years ago? Five years ago?
For me the answer is unequivocally no, and one only have to ask those who work on a daily basis with drugs and how it affects individuals and their families, to affirm to that conclusion.
The PSNI will point to their successes in terms of capture of drugs, money and then convictions of those involved and this in itself does allow ourselves to believe that drugs and drug related crime remains a big issue for us as a society to contend with.
Indeed it can be argued that vital police resources are often deployed in dealing with vigilante groups rather than focus in drugs and crime.
People who indulge themselves in vigilantism often hide behind the mantra that what they do is popular. They draw incorrect inference from people’s indifference to some forms of criminality.
All of us have a responsibility to state clearly that punishment attacks do not work and they are wrong.
In relation to freeing republican areas from drug barons, one only has to do a cursory analysis of the profile of those “punished” by RAAD in Derry to see the fallacy of that rationale.
The overwhelming majority are young males in the early 20s, unemployed and with low educational attainment. Indeed they all appear to live in a very defined geographical area, all these drug barons within a one-mile radius!
None of them display the overt trappings of wealth often clearly associated with drug barons.
Indeed talking to some families, trapped in the cycle of use, abuse and addiction with their sons forced to leave Derry, they speak of having to borrow money to facilitate travel into a world of uncertainty.
This is not the portrayal of drug barons in villas on the Costa del Sol. Indeed the complete opposite.
It is in this context that groups like RAAD, which despite their stated objectives serve only to add to problem rather than resolve it.
Over the course of recent years Sinn Fein has consistently contended that these type of groups with their distinct lack of cohesion and without any semblance of accountability often degenerate into a collection of individuals.
Many of these individuals believe that they have a status, of being beyond sanction and censure.
An attack on a GAA facility highlights just out of touch people can become. The ethos of volunteerism that underpins the GAA is in stark contrast to those who set fire to Sean Dolan’s.
Fragmentation, individualism and self-gain is a common theme of other similar groups.
RAAD cannot fool itself, never mind the community in Creggan and throughout Derry that the attack on the Sean Dolan’s clubhouse was not this type of degeneration in practice.
Distancing oneself from these types of actions or disowning the individuals involved does not remove the obvious responsibility that falls on RAAD.
Those within RAAD who believe that they have the best interest of the people of Derry at heart or harbour any notion of republicanism must take the only credible step open to them and walk away.
Indeed those who claim that they provide leadership to RAAD should ensure that its existence comes to an end, to allow its continuance will only bring about more actions by those who attacked Sean Dolan’s and with it the entire community.
No more ifs and buts, no more pretence and excuses, now is time to stop.