Brian Feeney, columnist for the Irish News in Belfast, is one of the most important and knowledgeable commentators on Northern Ireland. For me, his column is compulsory reading.
But full disclosure: I do not know him and have never spoken to him. Furthermore, he comes from a different tradition than I do. He was previously an elected official of the SDLP.
On November 7, Feeney's column in the Irish News was devastating, "The PSNI is not representative of society – and that's a big problem."
His assessment of the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) is most alarming: "The fact that the police don't represent society and that its senior officers are overwhelmingly Unionist [Loyalist/Protestant] accounts for the PSNI's hostility. … Let's be clear about this. No one wanted a reliable, impartial, effective, representative police service more than northern Nationalists. They'd never had one. They still haven't."
In the entire Good Friday Agreement, there is no more crucial promise than the creation of an acceptable police service: ".. .The participants believe it essential that policing structures and arrangements are such that the police service is professional, effective and efficient, fair and impartial, free from partisan political control; accountable, both under the law for its actions and to the community it serves; representative of the society it polices, and operates within a coherent and co-operative criminal justice system, which conforms with human rights norms..."
On April 22, 1999, I testified before the House International Relations Committee (now Foreign Affairs) of the U.S. Congress on the creation of an acceptable police service for Northern Ireland. I quoted the noted scholar Professor John Brewer, in his very important book, Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland, 1600-1998: The Mote and the Beam: "Anti-Catholicism in the new state of Northern Ireland existed in its pure form, operating at the levels of ideas, behavior and social structure as it came to shape the society whose state Protestants now controlled. .. The ascendancy in the North was affected immediately by means of the Protestantisation of the administration and personnel of the state. .. The Protestantisation of the police was critical to the ascendancy."
"Arming the Protestants" followed the sectarian proposal of the racist, bitterly Anti-Catholic Winston Churchill in July 1920: "What if the Protestants in the six counties were given weapons and. .. charged with maintaining law and order and policing the country?"
This is the essential background that must be borne in mind when analyzing the origins of the Six Counties state and its police. Note that Churchill – famed master of the most precise and exactly right word – did not use "Unionists/Loyalists" but "Protestants." He knew exactly what he was saying, and exactly what he wanted: A Protestant paramilitary force that would keep Catholics in their place, and who would be the envy of every white racist sheriff in Mississippi and the white Apartheid Government in South Africa throughout the 20th Century.
However, we had been promised that the Good Friday Agreement would usher in a "new beginning to policing." And that was so promising and hopeful to me because as a Fermanagh man I knew full well the curse of an Anti-Catholic police force.
That is why Feeney's article is so disturbing. Just listen when he states this:
"The biggest blow to preventing a representative police service emerging was the success of Unionists in stopping 50-50 recruitment. Unionists [Loyalists/Protestants] don't want a representative police service, never have, and have worked consistently to prevent one. In one of the many stupid decisions he made, the then proconsul [Northern Ireland Secretary of State] Owen Paterson, a caricature English blowhard about 'Ahland' [Ireland], mollified his DUP sycophants and abolished 50-50 recruiting in 2011. Of all actions, that one vindicated Gerry Adams's description of him as a 'complete tube.'
"In 2015, there were 400 new recruits to the PSNI. Seventy-seven of them were Catholic -19%. Bit of a drop from 50-50 eh? About 200 police leave every year. Increasingly, the majority of them is Catholic. Soon we'll be getting down to around 25 percent Catholics in the PSNI.
"Not good. At senior level, it's far, far worse. You might have read here last year that of the 7,500 or so full-time and part-time officers about 500 were of the rank of inspector or above. Only ninety-two of those were Catholic, probably fewer now. That means about one per cent of the PSNI of the rank of inspector, or above, is Catholic. What's being done about this disparity? Nothing."
There is nothing more important than an acceptable police service. The lack of such a service – under the guise of the hated and discredited RUC – was one of the main causes of The Troubles.
The Good Friday Agreement will stand or fall on there being a police service that is "professional, effective and efficient, fair and impartial, free from partisan political control; accountable, both under the law for its actions and to the community it serves…"
The return of a hostile, Anti-Catholic para-military police force in The North is this Fermanagh man's worst nightmare because I know where that will inevitably lead – and it's not to the building up of the Beloved Community or to the fulfillment of the blessed promise of the Good Friday Agreement.
Fr. Sean Mc Manus is Founder-President of the Washington, D.C.-based Irish National Caucus.