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Date Posted: Sat, Aug 25 2007, 18:46:20 PDT
Author: The Blanket-Aug. 3 '07
Subject: "Banner" Headlines Obscure the Reality?
In reply to: The Blanket-13, Aug. '07 's message, "Desecration of More Than The Grave" on Sat, Aug 25 2007, 18:31:30 PDT

"Banner" Headlines Obscure the Reality?

W. Harbinson • 3 August 2007

Anyone who believed that the recommendations from the SF leadership to its membership at the beginning of this year to commence supporting and engaging with the PSNI would not lead to recognition of the illegitimacy of partition and British jurisdiction in Ireland are probably becoming increasingly disillusioned as they continue to observe the outworkings of the St Andrew's Agreement.

A lot of media attention has recently focussed on the intensive media PR exercise surrounding the ending of the British Army's so-called "Operation Banner" in the Six Counties which concluded on July 31st. According the official British Government line, 'Operation Banner' permitted the deployment of British troops in support of the RUC/PSNI.

Very little attention has been focussed on the British Army's 'Operation Helvetic' which commenced in the Six Counties on August 1st. Ironically (or not) as it might seem, but the official British Government line is that 'Operation Helvetic' also permits the deployment of British troops in support the PSNI.

The legislative backdrop to 'Operation Helvetic' has been in preparation by the British Government since at least the autumn of 2006 and, far from leading to the demilitarisation of the Six Counties, this legislative backdrop in effect gives continued powers of stop and question, arrest, search, entry and seizure to British troops based in the Six Counties.

If the British Army is supposed to be off the streets, then perhaps those in SF who continually speak about "civic policing" or creating a rights-based society could explain to their membership, their voters, and everyone else who falls into neither category, why there is a need for these new powers in 'a peace process'? Or, indeed, maybe even explain why SF has been so muted in its opposition to the introduction of this legislation?

Powers of stop and question, arrest, search, entry and seizure of property (including land and buildings), road closures, etc., which previously were only available to British troops under purported "emergency legislation" have now been "normalised" by virtue of the Justice and Security Act 2007 which started its legislative journey through Westminster within weeks of the St Andrew's negotiations. These powers took effect from August 1st 2007, the day "Operation Helvetic" commences.

For example, from August 1st, as a result of this new legislation, British troops here have an additional power to stop and question anyone about their movements - and hold them indefinitely until they answer. Anyone refusing to identify themselves or answer questions about their movements can be subjected to a £5,000 fine.

The PSNI is also granted similar powers through the Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (NI) Order 2007 - even though the British Cabinet rejected similar powers as being unacceptable for police forces in England, Scotland and Wales.

All of the parties involved in the present Stormont Executive and the St Andrews negotiations have been aware of these facts for some time but little or no public opposition has been forthcoming from them on these matters.

Certainly, the SF leadership was fully aware of what was to be contained in these two pieces of legislation as far back as the end of November last. Yet, in the run-up to the extraordinary Ard Fhéis in January of this year, that same leadership never informed their membership of the reality of this new dispensation. I wonder why?

One can at least attempt to understand the Sinn Féin leadership's reasons for silence.

To publicly oppose the provisions contained in the Justice and Security Act and the Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (NI) Order, or the commencement of the new "Operation Helvetic", would be the equivalent of shining a spotlight on that same leadership's failure to achieve the total dismantlement of the British military apparatus of oppression and occupation in the North.

Such a spotlight would also highlight the further erosion of human rights in the Six Counties that has been legislated for by the British Government with the full knowledge, if not the tacit consent, of all those parties in the Stormont Executive. That spotlight might also expose the continuing use of non-jury Diplock Courts in the North for the forseeable future.

Incidentally, few people would be aware that, under the Justice and Security Act 2007, one condition upon which a case can be referred to a Diplock/non-jury Court is if the accused person is an associate of another person who (a) is a member of a proscribed organisation or (b) has at any time been a member of an organisation that was a proscribed.

For the purposes of the Justice and Security Act, an associate is defined to include a "friend" or a "relative", as well as spouses or former spouses, civil partners or former civil partners, and co-habiting partners or former partners.

Being a relative is a condition which can be met by literally tens of thousands of members of the families of former republican prisoners in the North.

Little wonder, then, that the British Government has been so reluctant to expunge the records of former POW's, as it had already legislatively decided to criminalise all ex-prisoners' families just in case any members of those families might possibly be accused of offences in the future.

The North's Human Rights Commission previously publicly voiced concern about the provisions contained in the Justice and Security Act. In January of this year, the Commission expressed concern that measures contained in the Act could seriously impede the protection of human rights in the North.

Even the British Parliament's own Joint Committee on Human Rights stated in February of this year that provisions within the Security and Justice Act raised major human rights issues concerning juries and non-jury trials; the erosion of powers of the Human Rights Commission; and additional powers for the PSNI and British army.

The Human Rights Commission, along with the NUJ, also publicly voiced opposition to provisions contained in the Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (NI) Order 2007 which came into force in March of this year.

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day (3 May), the National Union of Journalists in Ireland and the Human Rights Commission joined together to condemn new policing powers which threaten press freedom and the confidentiality of journalists' sources.

Another little known fact is that the North's new Special Constabulary, or Community Support Officers to give them their formal title, will be able to exercise powers of stop and search, and seizure of items under sections 44(1) and (2) and 45(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000. Not unlike the Specials of old.

So "Operation Banner" has ended and "Operation Helvetic" has commenced as human rights protections continue to disappear in the North with very little fuss - in order that the new, or should that be old, status quo in Ireland can prevail. What's new?

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