BEING chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is a job that calls for a willingness to offer acts of contrition for the many crimes and continuing failures of trust that come with this particular piece of colonial territory.
The PSNI is an instrument of the British imperial state and, as such, offers satisfaction to the victims of the many historical injustices in that part of Ireland only reluctantly, only under duress and only in rationed portions.
Five Catholics died when the so-called Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) opened fire on a bookie’s shop on Ormeau Road in February 1992.
One of the weapons involved in the attack was a Browning pistol that had been given to the attackers by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (as the body charged with keeping the Queen’s peace was designated in those days).
Such was the intimacy between the Ulster Defence Association and the RUC that the UDA quartermaster William Stobie — himself a police agent — had surrendered the weapon to the RUC and had it returned.
The weapon was later used in other armed actions. Another weapon used, an assault rifle, was reported as “disposed of” but found its way back in to official hands before its new location was revealed — via a Panorama programme — as an exhibit in the Imperial War Museum.
These events add a new dimension to the notion of the “evidential chain of custody” regarded as so important in judicial circles.
One chief constable apologised for this and promised to do better. His successor now is obliged to offer further apologies for the latest investigatory failure.
Only an incurable optimist or a political naïf can believe that this will be the final revelation of complicity between the state and loyalist paramilitaries or, indeed, the final apology.
The redesignation of the RUC as the PSNI illustrates the many-sided character of the present bargain struck with and between the contending political forces on the island of Ireland.
It brought a temporary stabilisation of the inherently unsustainable consequences of partition which, in essence, entailed a compromise that left unchallenged the basic imperial framework of relations between Ireland and Britain.
This compromise is unravelling with the breach in ruling class unity that the Brexit referendum has revealed.
The partition of Ireland will come to an end sooner or later. It institutionalised the division of the working class and separated out the forces that, in a united Ireland, might have made for a more democratic state.
We forget that in the insurgent conditions following the Great War of 1914-18 partition brought to an end a revolutionary process close to the heart of British imperialism and closed off for generations the possibility of political and social advance in all of Ireland.
It was a compromise that both nationalist and unionist, business and farming interests could accept and which a Tory government could sell if only because it secured both parts of Ireland for continuing imperial domination.
On both islands the formal instruments of government — the British Parliament, the Stormont Executive, and the Dail — maintain a sometimes lively existence but with much executive power migrated to EU and with the Irish Republic, imprisoned within the eurozone, without even the remnants of sovereignty that its own currency might protect.
People in Wales, Scotland and England have no interest in maintaining partition. Brexit has ruptured all the long-standing conventions that govern relations within and between our islands and offers both our nations the tempting prospect of recovering sovereignty, a united Ireland from Britain and both nations from the European Union of banks and big business
With many thanks to: The Morning Star for the original story