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OPINION: Courage to stand down men of hate.

Byline: Alex Attwood, SDLP Chairperson, Policing Spokesperson and Policing Board member

A QUIET COURAGE AND FIRM CONVICTIONS

THE most striking feature of this last turbulent week has been the resilience and dignity of people across the North who have been abused and attacked.

In the cemetery at Carnmoney, at schools, around the homes of members of District Policing Partnerships, people of quiet courage and firm convictions have held the line for what is good and decent.

Their conduct has echoes of our past when the line was held against threat and terror. All of us owe all of them - the McBrides, the Bradleys and the other families - a great deal. And so, too, to those who have chosen to depart from their local DPP.

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?

While 'dissident republicans' are heavily involved, there has been claim and counterclaim about who else might be. On the one hand Sinn Fein hold up their hands, claim they know nothing and issue timely condemnations.

On the other hand, the PSNI say that individuals or elements in the IRA are involved. Other sources confirm this and credible grounds exist for concluding that some mainstream republicans in and around east Tyrone are active.

So to ensure there is no doubt about IRA intentions, it is essential that there is a crystal clear and certain IRA statement that there will be no future threats and that PSNI and DPP members can live and work free of harassment.

The continued silence of the IRA to issue such a statement does not create confidence when confidence is sorely needed.

CONDEMNATION IS

NOT ENOUGH

AN IRA statement is all the more crucial given that present Sinn Fein condemnations of threats sit uneasily beside previous declarations by Sinn Fein, publicly stated and never denied.

Gerry Adams has said that ''anybody interested in a new beginning to policing should not act or be a part of this police service'' and that PSNI recruits ''will be accorded exactly the same treatment the republican movement accorded to the RUC.''

How do Sinn Fein reconcile the past words of their president with the eager condemnations by their vice-president in recent days?

However, the ''Adams line'' has been a pattern. The Sinn Fein chairperson refused to condemn an attack on a police recruit in Ballymena in June, 2002.

Sinn Fein Councillors in Newry have asked in public session, ''Will the council be expected to pay for any damage to (DPP) members' homes if they are targeted?'' and ''Do you realise .... your names will appear on posters on every pole in the centre of Newry''.

In Derry council, Sinn Fein referred to SDLP members as ''collaborators'' and ''spies of Special Branch'' and pledged that the SDLP would ''pay for their actions by joining the DPP''.

This is why Sinn Fein also needs to declare that there will be no future threat against DPP members and police officers and that every citizen has the right to participate in the new beginning to policing without harassment, threat or intimidation. And when the words come, the words should be crystal clear and certain.

WHY THREATEN DPP MEMBERS?

YESTERDAY was the 4th anniversary of the publication of the Patten Report. Two years ago the Policing Board was established. The DPPs are only six months old. Despite political paralysis created by republican and unionist bad faith over the Agreement and the reckless cancellation of the May Election, the pace of policing change accelerates.

A new name, flag and badge; Special Branch being dismantled; 2,000 jobs for Catholics in the PSNI over the next two years; Orde in and Flanagan out; the Police Ombudsman vindicated over her Omagh Report; hundreds joining the DPPs to drive forward change in local neighbourhoods; 50:50 recruitment.

Challenges and resistance endures but change is irreversible. All of this exposes the spurious basis for the existence of dissident republicans.

This is why PSNI and DPP members are vulnerable. But Sinn Fein, in their relentless misrepresentations that Patten is not being implemented, in their disparaging of those creating the new policing opportunities and in the violence of their language, have created the environment in which some now revert to threat and attack.

HOW DO WE RESPOND?

THE response has been unequivocal - growing numbers in the community, the Churches, political parties, governments and elsewhere stand with DPP members and stand up to those who threaten and those who create a threatening environment.

As the late Robert Kennedy would have commented: ''Numberless diverse acts of courage and belief ... can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.''

This is been the nature of the response this last week.

MORE IS NEEDED

THERE should be no hiding place for those responsible for the threatening environment and the threats to DPP members. People should do what is required to see those responsible prosecuted.

Crucially, political parties should not shirk from policing change by, on the one hand continued unionist resistance to Patten, and on the other republicans failing to join in the work of implementing Patten.

Sinn Fein has no valid reasons and has long run out of excuses not to join the Policing Board and the DPPs. It can no longer evade the policing challenge or pick and choose from the Agreement. In coming weeks Sinn Fein cannot be permitted by governments and others to continue this evasion.

THE LONG TWILIGHT STRUGGLE

ATTENTION in recent days has properly concentrated on the threats to DPP members. But recent months and years have been characterised by threats on the Catholic and nationalist community, on police recruits and others.

The long, twilight struggle against this bigotry must continue. It circulates widely. It lurks around schools, cemeteries and the homes of PSNI. It, too, must have no hiding place.

CAPTION(S):

TORCHED: Marian Quinn's car, wrecked by cowards; CAR: Arthur McGarrigle; BULLETS: Denis Bradley
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 21, 2003
Words:972
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