Sometimes you thank the deity for the Irish News letters page. Amidst all the hype about the ending of Operation Banner, there has been scarcely a word on the commencement of Operation Helvetic as of 1 August. I was beginning to think I had imagined the thing until seeing yesterday’s long letter from “Not Fooled” of Co. Armagh, who had done his homework about the legislative framework and was able to set out what that means.
Since the letter isn’t online, unless you have an Irish News subscription, I’ll summarise the case. Under Operation Banner, the British army operated as support to the RUC. Under Operation Helvetic, the British army is available as support to the PSNI. Contemporaneous with Operation Helvetic is the coming into effect of the Justice and Security Act 2007, which makes permanent many of the “temporary” emergency powers in the North, including Diplock courts. This follows hot on the heels of the Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (NI) Order 2007, alias the Ed Moloney Order, which amongst other things allows the cops to seize journalists’ computers, and came into effect in March over a modest squeak of protest from the NUJ.
“Not Fooled” concludes that the apparatus of repression remains intact and therefore things are very much as they were. Well, up to a point, and I’m sure any supporter of the peace process would out that things have changed. Both are correct, but in a partial way. Yes, the move from Banner to Helvetic is pretty much a cosmetic manoeuvre to allow peace process players to big up the progress that’s been made. But does it make a huge difference? After all, troops have been more or less confined to barracks for ten years now. In that sense, it’s like the Provos announcing their war was over when they hadn’t actually done anything warlike in years.
So why the legal institutionalisation of repressive powers? Well, this is the kind of thing the Brits do really well. They bring in arcane legislation and don’t use it. Diplock courts may have been made legally permanent, but the likelihood is that the Brits will allow them to fall into disuse. Then, if and when these draconian powers are needed, they can bring in measures that are perfectly legal but that everybody had forgotten were there. Demilitarisation used to be the watchword – now what we could do with is some serious pressure towards clearing the statute books of repressive laws. But what are the odds of that?
Rud eile: The UDA-inspired riot in Kilcooley the other night has brought forth lots of tut-tutting, with Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde and Social Development minister Margaret Ritchie wondering aloud whether the state subvention to the UDA might be put at risk if they keep carrying on like this. If you want to help the people of a hellhole like Kilcooley, I would have thought a basic precondition for that would be a commitment to getting the paramilitaries off their back, rather than filling the pockets of those same paramilitaries.
Rud eile fós: If the Andytown News is to be believed, Grizzly himself put in an appearance at the follow-up Save Our Barracks meeting and is taking a personal interest in the matter. Watch this space.