Andersontown News, 13. December 2001,

WE SAY: A vital choice to make

It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out that if it can’t be proved at present that Special Branch were involved in some way in the murder of William Stobie, then they are at least on a very short list of suspects with an interest in seeing him dead.

It is being said that yesterday was a very bad day for the RUC and the new PSNI after the Ombudsman’s report into the RUC’s handling of the Omagh bomb was released before the gunsmoke had cleared from the North Belfast air.

A more realistic assessment of yesterday’s events could be proferred.

This is the very first time that a light has been shone into the dark and murky corners inhabited by Special Branch and the result has been an apocalyptic series of revelations and condemnations that have placed a time bomb at the heart of the old guard.

Just when that bomb will explode and banish the last vestiges of state-sanctioned black arts and terror is anybody’s guess, but explode it will.

It is up to the British government to decide whether they want this issue to be drawn out painfully and bitterly in a series of dripfeed further revelations, or whether they will show the courage required and act immediately and decisively to ensure that the truth is revealed.

It is only then that the new start to policing that we all crave can be made.

It has been a bad week for the SDLP. While Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan was courageously standing by her hard-hitting report in the face of an hysterical response from Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan, the SDLP were holed up in Belfast with the UUP and the DUP arguing over the shape and colour of a badge for the new force.

It is patently obvious this morning that the SDLP has jumped too early on the issue of policing.

Alex Attwood argues that his party is best placed to address issues of concern from within the new Police Board, but that is a feeble attempt to obscure the true facts of the case, which are that Special Branch and the huge raft of problems associated with it should have been sorted out before the SDLP gave the new police arrangements the thumbs-up instead of after.

It’s not as if the issue hasn’t been a live one for some time.

Those opposed to the new arrangements placed Special Branch firmly on the ‘A’ list of objections because anyone familiar with the baleful reality of Special Branch and their activities down through the years knew that no real progress is possible so long as that organisation holds a position of such absolute and unquestioned hegemony within the police service – whatever name or badge it may have.

The implications of the events of the past few days and weeks are so profound that immediate and far-reaching steps need to be taken before the name of the PSNI itself is besmirched even before it has been printed on the headed notepaper.

Ronnie Flanagan is damaged goods on so many levels now that he is effectively incapable of meaningful command and should stand down right away.

The British government should illustrate that it is taking this shocking series of events seriously.

Secretary of State John Reid is engaged in a furious and seemingly futile damage limitation exercise, but he’s torn between the need to keep the lid on the truth about his country’s dirty war and his duty to uphold the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement – in this case the office of the Police Ombudsman.

Sadly, the two activities are mutually exclusive. The best thing that John Reid could do now would be to admit that awful wrongs have been perpetrated and lines crossed over.

The Good Friday Agreement demands a new start to policing and, just as gambling and drink addicts cannot begin seriously to address their problems until they admit to their existence, so no new start can be envisioned until the policing demons of the past are acknowledged and exorcised.

For the British it is a simple choice. Not only does the direction of policing depend on what choice is made, the very future of this corner of Ireland does too.