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Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

Convicted IRA members could police nationalist areas

(by Suzanne Breen, Sunday Tribune)

IRA members who have carried out punishment attacks pre-1998 could be paid by the British government to police nationalist communities, the Sunday Tribune has been told.

The government is due to publish guidelines for the controversial Community Restorative Justice (CRJ) schemes on Tuesday. CRJ has applied for state funding and must sign up to the guidelines before it receives public money.

Critics had hoped everyone with a criminal conviction would be barred for working for such schemes but sources claimed the government would definitely exclude only those convicted after the Belfast Agreement.

A panel would vet other cases but there wouldn't be routine exclusion for those convicted before 1998, the sources claimed.

CRJ operates 14 schemes in nationalist areas across the North. It has been criticised by the Rape Crisis Centre and Foyle Women's Aid.

Last week, Robert McCartney's sisters visited the House of Commons to tell MPs that some of the 15 people involved in their brother's murder were active in CRJ.

The SDLP says the government's guidelines provide inadequate protection against human rights' abuses. The party's justice spokesman, Alban Maginness, said CRJ shouldn't be funded while a culture of paramilitary control still gripped nationalist areas.

"I'm profoundly concerned that these proposals may provide for state paid paramilitary vigilantes with few safeguards and little accountability.

The government is saying a proper complaints' mechanism will be established but many people will be just too scared to complain."

The government is proposing the Criminal Justice Inspectorate monitor CRJ but Maginness said the Inspectorate was already too busy dealing with other criminal justice institutions and a special agency should be set up to regulate CRJ.

CRJ members must prove, before funding, that they will uphold the law. "The test isn't what they say but what they do on the ground," he said.

The Short Strand experience is that some CRJ members have a long way to go.

"The senior CRJ member who witnessed a brutal assault on Robert McCartney's friend, Jeff Commander, still hasn't' made a statement to police." There will be a two-month consultation period on the guidelines.

July 23, 2006

This article appeared in the July 23, 2006 edition of the Sunday Tribune.