Giving Sinn Féin power over policing is just madness
In Northern republican heartlands, locals are asked to help tackle lawbreaking - as long as suspects are not themselves republicans, writes David Adams.
SINN FÉIN is demanding the devolution of justice and policing powers from Westminster to the Northern Ireland Executive, and it looks increasingly likely that the DUP will acquiesce.
This calls for a little context.
The people who beat and stabbed Robert McCartney to death outside a bar in Belfast, and those who clubbed the life out of Paul Quinn near south Armagh, will probably never be brought to justice.
For one overbearing reason.
In both cases, the murderers were associates or colleagues of Sinn Féin and the IRA.
For the exact opposite reason, there is every chance that the young thugs who fatally stabbed Harry Holland in west Belfast, and the self-appointed vigilante gang who shot to death Emmett Shiels in Derry, will eventually be held to account.
Encapsulated therein is the street-level reality of Sinn Féin's support for policing and justice.
In the republican heartlands of Northern Ireland, local communities are encouraged to help the PSNI tackle lawbreaking - but only where the perpetrators are not connected to the republican movement.
Where they are, co-operation is actively discouraged.
Helping the police is then simply not an option, at least not for anyone with hopes of a relatively peaceful existence for themselves and their families.
By the rules of Sinn Féin and its allies, only those without connections to mainstream republicanism should be answerable to the law of the land, regardless of how heinous the crime.
Most of us play along with the fiction that republican support for policing and justice is on the same terms as right-thinking citizens.
After all, their spokespeople tell us so often enough, and taking their words rather than the evidence at face value makes for an easier life all around.
Except that is, if you happen to be a victim - or happen to give a damn about the kind of society we live in.
It is noteworthy that last Friday, of the four main political parties in the North, only one made any public comment on the acquittal of three men charged with offences relating to the murder of Robert McCartney.
No surprise that Sinn Féin decided to keep its own counsel, but the DUP and UUP, usually to the forefront in vocal support of law and order, also chose to say nothing.
They stayed silent despite the trial judge speculating in his summing up that the IRA had "influenced or directed" some of the evidence given to the court.
Not for the first time, and probably not the last, only the SDLP spoke out, through its deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell, to give public voice to a widespread feeling of outrage and disgust.
At every turn, republicans have protected their own, by hampering police investigations into the murders of Robert McCartney and Paul Quinn.
For daring to seek justice, McCartney's sisters and his partner have been subjected to a long-running campaign of intimidation, the latter being eventually driven from the family home in the republican Short Strand district of Belfast.
Yet all of this comes a poor second to political unionism's fear of rocking the republican boat and thereby causing instability at Stormont.
This same fear will drive them to give in to Sinn Féin's demand for the devolution of policing and justice powers.
Not only political parties and governments are wilfully blind to the narrow nature of republican support for law and order.
Some - though thankfully only some - of those without obvious political connections who would happily pontificate all day about collusion, human rights abuses by agents of the British state and the need for transparency and justice for victims, have had little if anything to say about the McCartney and Quinn murders.
Their motivation, or lack of it, can only be guessed at.
Perhaps it is felt that republicans are only at the beginning of a process, which will lead eventually to them giving unequivocal backing to policing and the courts, and that too much should not be asked of them at this stage.
This hopeful outlook will undoubtedly be of as little comfort to the McCartney and Quinn families as knowing that their loss has not been allowed to interfere with the political arrangements at Stormont.
If republicans are indeed embarking on yet another journey, are more deaths, cover-ups and broken families to be the politically expedient price that we must pay before they reach their final destination? How many more can society be expected to tolerate? Critically, can anyone be certain that just such an evolutionary journey is under way, or guarantee that the current situation is not simply as good as it will ever get? Sinn Féin never tire of telling us that they are a normal party, and deserve to be treated as such (I have argued this myself).
So how would we treat other parties of government like, say, Fianna Fáil or the DUP, in similar circumstances? Certainly not by the madness of giving them shared authority over an entire policing and criminal justice apparatus.