Republicanism and policing – a historical context
Seán McGowan of the Republican
Socialist Youth Movement disuses the issue of policing in a historical
The term Republicanism may vary from country to country, in countries such as
the USA and Turkey, Republicanism may have once played a progressive role in
gaining independence and modernising the state. Now, the organisations
pertaining to be Republican in these countries are responsible for wars of
aggression against other nations and whose interests are firmly routed in the
capitalist class. In our historical Irish nation, Republicanism represents the
polar opposite of this distorted ideology. We are constantly mindful of the
French revolution of 1789 and the banner of 'Liberty, Equality and Fraternity'.
The later actions of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen act as the guide for our
non-sectarian ideology - 'Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, unite to break the
connection with England'.
A recurring theme of Irish history is that of parties or individuals who claim
to be Republican and who subsequently accept the legitimacy and will of
Capitalist class, not exclusively by entering the parliamentary institutions
that defend the Capitalists interests but by entering the Capitalist system with
the intent of reforming and changing it have in the end have had to force their
hand in defending the system they once sought to bring to the ground.
Republicans historically have involved themselves in policing actions, the
Republican courts during the War of Independence are examples of this before
partition and while the decisions of the court often served the capitalist class
- these actions are understandable in their historical context through the
absence of a credible police force that can be held accountable to the Irish
In 1922, the British tried to sell the image of the new RUC in the North that
would be one third Catholic as an attempt to subdue the Catholic population of
the new northern state into accepting the a foreign police force at legitimate.
Independence was by no means gained in 1921 with the partition of Ireland. This
partition signalled a change, however, those who claimed to be Republicans in
the freestate were still required to take an oath of allegiance to the British
crown when elected to the freestate Dáil Éireann following the overthrow of the
All-Ireland Dáil in 1922. Careerists do not see this as a sacrifice of
principles, Republicans on the other hand, are just full aware of what followed.
De Valera founded Fianna Fáil in May of 1926 following the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis
earlier that year at which he did not secure the necessary majority to end the
party’s policy of abstaining from the Freestate parliament. Fianna Fáil who
although did not initially take their seats they entered the parliament with the
intention of bringing it down.
Fianna Fáil soon was forced to defend their new positions within the system and
as such defend the very nature of the state itself. Throughout the subsequent
years, they used a recurrent method of tactics to secure themselves. In the
1930s, Broy Harriers were founded to police Blueshirt demonstrations. The Broy
Harriers were largely recruited from the ranks of former IRA Volunteers and
Prisoners of War once they outlived their usefulness in this regard they were
used extract owed land annuities from farmers and were amalgamated into the
Gardaí and Special Branch.
The process Sinn Féin has embarked on is similar to that of De Valera’s people.
They have recruited former IRA Volunteers and Prisoners of War into various
bodies that will work alongside the PSNI once Sinn Féin endorses the British
physical presence here.
This process represents the acceptance of these institutions and forces of
occupation, grants them legitimacy and dupes our people into accepting them. The
role of Republicans and Socialists should rightfully be to highlight the
inconsistencies of the Gardaí and PSNI, especially representatives elected on
We must bear in mind that the RIC which terrorised Republicans and those
sympathetic before the foundation of the Freestate was a predominantly Catholic
force, attempts to recruit Catholics into the PSNI are one of the targets of the
British state. Is having your front door kicked down in relation to your
Republican activity fine because the officer is a Catholic? It is an issue of
Catholics oppressing Catholics and the sectarian attitudes fostered by the
British state to again portray itself as a saviour.
The religion of a police officer irrelevant for there is no difference between a
Protestant of Catholic police officer but the system which he defends is what
makes him a target, as with the RIC, the PSNI today remains to defend British
rule and Capitalist interests in Ireland despite 20.05% of officers being
Catholic, compared to 8.3% with the old RUC in 1998. Almost eight of out ten
people in the six counties have confidence in the PSNI’s daily ability according
to a report conducted by the District Policing Partnerships.
Despite these facts being heralded as a great progress for our people, MI5 is
increasing its operations in Ireland. A new surveillance centre, rumoured to be
as big as Croke Park is being constructed in the north, MI5 are tracking over
1,500 individuals and have increased their staff to almost 3,000 personnel since
The Gardái in the south are accepted by most people and people would not avoid
them with the same resilience as people would in the six counties with the PSNI.
Yet, this police force, much like their associates in the PSNI are a brutal
police force renowned the world over for their brutality. Much like the PSNI,
they attempt to derail Republican activists by harassing, intimidating and in
the cases of Rónán McLoughlin and John Morris murdering them. Sinn Féin today
sit on the policing committee in
Dublin, this surely should be taken as an indication of what is to follow in the
The PSNI have acknowledged that they will continue to use child informants. They
will take advantage of a child’s innocence by plying them with money and gifts
to inform and spy on Republican activists as they have done with the INLA in the
past in Ardoyne, yet they remain absolutely silent when challenged with
evidence. This is a reserve side of a process of pacification which includes the
PSNI partaking in Gaelic Athletic
Association events, foot patrols in areas where they couldn’t enter unless by
armoured car for 30 years and Sinn Féin openly already partaking in meetings to
police their communities in regards to sectarian parades being forced through
Sinn Féin has claimed following information received from “Republican sources”
that their leadership is under threat from the INLA, Continuity and Real IRA.
These claims, promptly rubbished by Willie Gallagher were repeated again in the
press by the end of the week and remerged again two weeks later. The merits of
these claims are clear for all; Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly have both appeared
in public following these alleged threats. These threats can be seen only as a
ploy to unite Sinn Féin grassroots behind the leadership in the run up to
joining the policing boards.
While we do not advocate Republicans surrendering their arms because of Unionist
demands for it is the very right of the Irish people to bear arms, the
disastrous campaigns of the Continuity and Real IRA are bringing us in a
circular motion back to border campaign politics. Republican, youth and
community grassroots are growing disillusioned with the process of pacification
taking place in the Provisional Republican Movement with young Provisional
supporters having been visited in Derry following attacks on the PSNI. This is
not unique to Derry; members of the Provisional Republican Movement have
actively defended the forces of occupation in Belfast by preventing youth from
venting their frustrations especially around sectarian parades being forced
through their areas.
Their frustrations must be channelled into a viable political alternative to
Sinn Féin that will recognise the immediate needs of the working class, distinct
from career and slogan politics. The Fenian men who remained true in victory or
defeat are not a romantic notion of the past but a reality for Republicans
today. Our armed struggle, although justified, has long but ceased. While this
signals a downward turn for Republicanism, the sacrifice of principles by
joining those you once fought against militarily is not on the cards for us.
Policing is one of the very pillars on which any state rests, especially a state
that requires its force to use sangers, observation posts and armoured cars to
carry out their duties. To join policing boards with the view of engaging them
is to make their job easier in policing mostly the Catholic people of the six
counties. The six county police, no matter what they may call themselves, are
the armed defenders of a Unionist state. The fundamental basis of the state has
not changed and will not change when Sinn Féin and the DUP enter Stormont.
Under capitalism where enough jobs and houses do not exist for all; there will
always be a basis to agitate along lines of class. There will always be
exploited people under this system; the working class will always need a voice.
Since the ceasefires the economy of the north has expanded greatly, with foreign
investment being pumped into the country, both north and south.
Our people are experiencing a period of comfort they haven’t experienced in a
long time but when there’s an upsurge in workers struggles, there’s no doubt
whose side the PSNI, Sinn Féin and the DUP will be on.