Wednesday, 4 January 2012
The British State, their Police and Security Forces (Rab Jackson, éirígí)
The police force within any society acts as a crucial component part of the state apparatus. The state itself is a network of institutions including the armed forces, the judiciary, the civil service, the church and where applicable the monarchy. It is an apparatus which has as its role the maintenance of the social, economic and political interests of the dominant classes. This explains why Fredrick Engle’s once described the state fundamentally as ‘armed bodies of men acting in defense of private property’. And if the state is the instrument of the ruling class, clearly the police force represents its cutting edge.
Much of the focus on the question of special branch is misplaced. From a republican perspective, it matters not whether special branch is amalgamated with crime branch, whether or not there is a reduction in its numbers, whether or not special branch officers are limited to shorter term postings or whether or not district policing commanders are made aware of special branch/MI5 activity in their areas. From a republican perspective, the problem lies with the existence of special branch/MI5 itself, or to be more specific, with the existence of any type of secret British police department and agenda in Ireland whatever it may be called. Palace Barracks is the site for the overseeing and directing of the ‘national interests’ and this is not negotiable.
Again on this question it is necessary to return to the nature of the state and the role of the police perform within it. As explained, the state upholds the interests of the ruling classes, with the police force acting as the cutting edge. Defense of these interests is the fundamental role of the state and its police force. Consequently, the role of a special branch/MI5 type department within or, as suggested now, alongside the police is crucial. In fact it is true to say that special branch/MI5 stands as the most important department within/alongside any police force. It is the department which gathers intelligence about the enemies of the state and acts upon it using a wide range of techniques including physical surveillance, electronic surveillance and, most importantly the recruitment and running of informants. Its role is to weaken revolutionary or subversive organizations through application of this intelligence, resulting in the killing or imprisonment of members of these organizations.
Special branch/MI5 is a secret police department with a very specific role to which the concepts of accountability and control are anathema. Certainly the policing Board itself will never be in the position to control, or be privy to all the activities of special branch/MI5 simply has no constructive role in Ireland from a Republican ideological view point. In fact they represent one of the most destructive and limiting obstacles to Republicanism and should be implacably opposed undermined and removed.
The only change of late has been a cosmetic one. This was a commitment by the then outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in the form of a letter, that the roles of MI5 and PSNI will be distinct. He qualifies this by saying “All necessary interaction between the security services and the PSNI, for example in response to the threat of international terrorism (national security), will, as directed by the chief constable, be by way of liaison”. This essentially means that MI5 is severed except when it needs to interact with the PSNI nor when it needs to use the PSNI to carry out its policies.
A ‘civic’ police force even if it wished to, has no accountability mechanisms or legal power which allows it to refuse the work handed to it by MI5. ‘civic police officers, of course will have to carry out the arrest orders on those the British deem to be desirable and they will be tasked with pushing orange marchers through areas where they’re not welcomed. Republicans who oppose British rule in Ireland and whom the British consider to be running contrary to national interests will feel the full weight of the ‘civic’ police officers. In these circumstances it will be clear that empty promises by British Ministers about the transfer of powers will not be worth the paper they’re not written on.
The implications now and in the future for republicans endorsing the policing structures in the context outlined cannot be underestimated. The conundrum for republicans must be; can you continue to oppose British state in Ireland, whilst at the same time endorsing, working within, and encouraging others to work within the legal framework of that same apparatus? Can you effectively pursue a republican agenda whilst playing by British rules designed to protect British state interests?
If and when the British state becomes threatened in Ireland, as it inevitably will at some point, from a left or republican direction, those working within its cutting edge will be compelled or directed to defend it. This means the PSNI and MI5. They will have no choice but to act thus at that point. Subsequently and tragically, those involved in British policing structures will be implied (as the SDLP have been thus far) every time the state cracks down on its opponents in order to defend the interests of its masters in the British ruling class. Every time a republican is jailed or killed, a strike is broken up, or a public protest is violently dispersed, the representatives of the republican community who support and endorse this institution and who work alongside it will be implicated in its abuses. This is the essential dilemma for republicans on this issue.