PSNI District Policing Partnerships- A template for police accountability?


Hugh Orde, current Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland often refers to the force as the ‘most democratic, accountable police service in the world’. Despite its retention of a heavy arsenal of lethal weapons including Tasers, and a litany of repressive 'anti-terror' legislation including ‘dip-lock courts’.


DESPITE its retention of a heavy arsenal of lethal weapons including Tasers, and a litany of repressive anti-terror legislation including dip-lock courts, Hugh Orde, current Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland often refers to the force as the ‘most democratic, accountable police service in the world’

This is all under the context of a 'new policing dispensation' and it seems not much has changed whenever the same Chief Constable has unsuccessfully attempted to block the release of vital documents to the Pearse Jordon Inquest. Pearse and unarmed IRA volunteer was gunned down by the RUC on the Falls Road in 1992.

Meanwhile a new MI5 headquarters has been built to direct and gather intelligence in the interests of 'national security' meaning the interests of the rich and powerful such is the nature of political policing under the state. Policing and justice powers still continue to reside in Westminister.

Recently, the 'New Era' came with a bang to the residents from the Drumbeg estate in Craigavon who were recently subject to a prolonged campaign of intimidation and violence by the paramilitary police force of the PSNI. See ( this was followed by sustained resistance by the youth of the area in which there was some degree of organised republican involvement.

This was met with outright ‘condemnation’ and typical ‘law and order’ response by all establishment political parties including Sinn Fein who swiftly moved to portion complete blame on ‘dissident republicans’ rather than the root cause of the problem.

District Policing Partnerships (DPPs) were set up by the Policing Board in conjunction with local councils in early 2003 as part of the ‘new policing dispensation’ under the Patton agreement in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998. Along with the establishment of an ‘independent’ police ombudsman and a policing board to scrutinise the actions of the Chief Constable, a DPP,

“Is a meaningful partnership between the district council, councillors and representatives of the local community for the purpose of monitoring the effectiveness of policing in that area. Also, the DPP will act as a forum for discussion and consultation on matters affecting the policing of the district, which it is responsible for. This will include, for example, the prioritisation of policing issues on behalf of local people.”

In short, DPPs represented an attempt by the state and its agencies to build co-operation and gain a foothold in working-class communities particularly of a nationalist/republican persuasion who have been in direct conflict and on the receiving end of state violence. These policing developments in terms of the wider ‘political stability’ and restoration of local political institutions at Stormont; eventual active participation of Sinn Fein in these structures have provided an illusion of state ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’.

Despite a massive propaganda blitz waged by the PSNI, establishment parties and the mainstream media it seems that not everyone is buying into the spin surrounding DPP’s. According to the latest major public survey conducted by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency in February, fewer than one in seven people believed DPP’s were doing a good job. Of the 71,500 survey’s sent to random households across the North only 57% were filled in by Protestants and 30% by Catholics. Furthermore those surveyed, only 12% of the population were actually aware who sits on their local DPP- hardly a shining example of democracy in action! More worryingly for the ruling elite 55% of respondents classed themselves as being ‘not confident’ or ‘not at all confident’.

These statistics are a wider illustration of DPP’s being merely a ‘talking shop’ with no legislative authority and designed to gloss over the inherent irreconcilable cracks and contradictions in the system. Rather than real ownership and empowerment, input by local residents in DPPs is limited to making ‘suggestions’ as a ‘spectator’, reinforcing our sense of dependency, powerlessness the division between the ruled and rulers; workers and bosses. Merely, a reflection of existing capitalist society in which we are allowed to pick a ruler every 4 years.

Doing what the state does best- co-opting and recuperating dissent along reformist and harmless channels.

Section 5.12 of its own Code of Conduct gives the District Policing Commander the power to refuse to answer any questions during a public meeting on the wide scope of ‘national security’ which basically translates into British ruling class interests. How many imperialist wars of plunder or recent curtailment of long-standing civil liberties including internment without trial have been justified in the interests of ‘national security’?

Poachers turn Game Keeper

This transition from opposition to defenders of the status-quo by the provisional republican movement should not be considered as ‘sell-out’ which implies a utopian view that ‘better leaders’ could do better under similar circumstances. At best this denies, the populist nature of Irish republicanism and the need to build class alliances and eventual collaboration with imperialism. This is also the outcome of the top down, centralised nature of republican organisations based on ‘bureaucratic centralism’. Limiting mass participation and stifling internal democracy ultimately results in facilitating the growth of an institutionalised leadership that becomes increasingly divorced and isolated from its rank and file.

This is conducive of a gradual process and strategy of embracing parliamentary electoral politics leading to the decay of mass mobilisation and disempowerment of what Alexander Berkman in the early 20th century sharply warned against and potently referred to

“With growing success in elections and securing political power they turn more and more conservative and content with existing conditions. Removal from the life and suffering of the working class, living in the atmosphere of the bourgeoisie . . . they have become what they call 'practical'. . . Power and position have gradually stifled their conscience and they have not the strength and honesty to swim against the current. . They have become the strongest bulwark of capitalism."

In effect, failing to learn to learn the lessons of the past century in which entering state institutions on the basis of pragmatic or tactical basis has been the gravedigger of so-called revolutionary Marxist movements never mind radical movements. History is littered with such examples from the emergence of the bureaucratic state capitalist machine under the Bolshevik Party in Russia to the various nominal labour parties.

This is not to suggest that the provisional movement has ever embraced revolutionary politics except for ‘populist flirtations’ in the late 1960s/70s seeking broader legitimacy with leftish armed struggle groups during this period.

However, it is pure utopian and complacent to oppose British state institutions while at the same time actively participate and administrate its operations and laws. Similarly, the state cannot be captured as a transition or vehicle to a libertarian socialist society without you too being turned inside out and becoming another cog in the bureaucratic machine.

Ironically, there is a case for the provisional movement joining the state policing structures, considering their armed wing already police working-class communities often with limited or no popular mandate. Therefore, they might as well get paid for the job they already do. That is more about establishing its authority and rooting out dissent rather than sorting out ‘anti-social behaviour’. Is anybody under any illusions that smaller republican organisations would do the same based on similar circumstances and acquiring a monopoly of power and coercion?

The provisional republican movement’s gradual embrace of the state’s mechanism of ‘law and order’ can also is traced to the origins political peace process and its involvement in Community Restorative Justice Schemes in the 1990s. This was based on some level of co-operation in terms of dialogue and funding from state statutory agencies. As a result, these schemes have been fully incorporated into the criminal justice system and its various guidelines. Such is the successful outcome of state counter-insurgency operations.

A stronger, more militant and confident working class will be able to and must, take on responsibility for tackling anti-social crime in its own communities as part of wider independent movement, because the police won’t do it and are complicit due to the very nature of capitalism and the state. No amount of token reforms, ‘sexy’ makeover, and government from Dublin, Stormont or London can disguise this fundamental antagonistic relationship.

We should not succumb to populist quick-fix calls for ‘zero-tolerance’, or 'more police on the streets' providing the green light for an intensification in police brutality. Evidently failing to address the underlying root causes of crime such as poverty, despair, poor housing.

As anarchists, opposition to the state and the social system it violently upholds demand that we get involved in the struggles of today to build the libertarian communist society of the future where real accountability and grassroots democracy will be its cornerstone.

A crucial element of this struggle in the short-term involves exposing and highlighting police brutality such as the Justice for Terence Wheelock campaign. Something that Phantom DPP’s fail at the first hurdle because they ultimately serve to uphold and defend the root cause of the such actions while at the same time pacify social discontent.

We must demonstrate through our actions and methods that only by collectively organising, practicing solidarity where we live and work as a class can we begin to tackle and remove the scourge of ‘anti-social crime’ and the real crime of capitalism.

“The police are not concerned about protecting me or any of the working class, because they are put here by the ruling class to protect the interests of the rich from the poor. To enforce their laws that keep together their system, that keeps them at the top and the majority at the bottom”.