Author Archive

Independent Monitoring Commission Report: Devolution of Policing will undermine Dissident Republican Terrorism

November 7, 2009 2 comments

IMC BannerThe members of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) may have thought that they were caught in limbo. Obliged under the Northern Ireland (Monitoring Commission etc.) Act 2003 following an International Agreement between the British and Irish Governments, the Commission has in recent years been able to declare that many of the groups once central to the “troubles” are now committed to exclusively peaceful means. A successive series of their Reports dealt with ever decreasing levels of political violence. The Commission’s mandate, to “monitor any continuing activity by paramilitary groups” (Article 4) and to “recommend any remedial action considered necessary” (Article 7) in response to this activity, appeared close to obsolescence.

If the Commissoners had once come round to this way of thinking, this week’s Twenty-Second Report adopted a markedly different tenor. The IMC asserts (at [2.7]) that the main dissident republican groups (the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA) have expanded their membership base (although largely through recruiting ‘inexperienced young males’). Moreover, the IMC evaluates how the attack against the Massereene Army Base in Antrim on 7 March 2009 (killing Sappers Mark Quincy and Patrick Azimkar) and the murder of PC Stephen Carroll in Craigavon on 9 March presaged a summer of increasingly ambitious attacks, often only thwarted by effective policing on both sides of the border (see [2.6]).

In other respects the Report was more hopeful. Having asserted that the Provisional IRA is committed to an exclusively peaceful path in its Nineteenth Report (at [2.7]), the IMC emphasised that (at [4.4]), particularly after the attacks in March, senior figures in Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA, ‘have continued to give leadership to the republican community to refrain from violent and other crime, to adhere to the exclusively political path, and to reject the dissident republicans who want to destroy the peace process, pointing out the futility of their actions and the lack of a political strategy on their part’. Moreover, the leadership of loyalist groups were singled out (see [4.5]) for their, ‘efforts to prevent a violent reaction on the part of members to the dissident republican murders’. This position was bolstered, on 4 September 2009, by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning’s verification of the UVF and Red Hand Commando’s weapons. The IMC also cautiously welcomed (at [2.21]) the INLA’s renouncement of violence on 11 October 2009.

For the moment the dissident republican groups remain fragmented and fractious, unable, in the words of the IMC, to undertake ‘effective strategic collaboration’. Nevertheless, focusing police resources on the dissident republican threat to the peace process will not, in the long term, deflect attention from the power vacuum which is developing at the centre of the peace process as a result of stalled efforts to devolve policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly (a point addressed in some of my earlier posts). As part of its wide mandate to recommend remedial action to counter terrorist threats, the IMC emphasised the paramount importance of devolving these powers (at [5.1]):

‘There are security and intelligence contributions to be made to addressing the developing problems. However, the early devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive could provide a potent intervention. This would not be because the dissidents would be impressed by it. It would be because policing and justice would no longer be a point of contention across the political divide; rather, it would be a platform for co-operation against those trying to undermine the peace process.’

Polls continue to suggest that the vast majority of Northern Irish voters support parties which remain committed to democratic politics. The longer this enforced hiatus persists, however, the easier dissidents will find it to persuade some people, even if they are ‘inexperienced young males’, that the peace process is not serving their interests.

The Northern Ireland Court Service and Restorative Justice Reports

November 3, 2009 4 comments

Restorative JusticeLast week’s Northern Ireland Court Service Annual Report (2008-09) provides backslapping bonhomie and useful statistics on the operation of the Courts in Northern Ireland in equal measure.

The recession’s impact on the activities of courts in this period has been particularly interesting. The relatively stable amount of business in Northern Ireland’s Crown Courts and a 6 per cent drop in cases before magistrates courts can be set against fears of rising crime rates which accompanied the economic downturn. Unsurprisingly, however, the civil courts have made up for this shortfall, with an overall 14 per cent rise in caseload largely being accounted for by a 77 per cent rise in mortgage cases.

Nonetheless, in recognition of the degree to which the Court Service has tackled these challenges, the Report notes that ‘all 21 courthouses in Northern Ireland achieve the new Cabinet Office “Customer Service Excellence” Standard’, the successor to the Chartermark standard for public service providers (p.6). As Jack Straw noted in his response to the report, these awards provide ‘clear testimony to the positive experience of court users and the service delivered by front-line staff’ (p. 7). Nonetheless this award scheme is, like its predecessor, dogged by the reality that, even if its performance dramatically declined, the people of Northern Ireland would have no alternative to the Court Service as presently organised (and that lobbying for reform would still have to go through Westminster as policing and justice spheres are yet to be devolved).

Read more…

Forthcoming Human Rights Symposium

October 21, 2009 Leave a comment

imagesNewcastle Human Rights Research Group Symposium: Human Rights – A Drop of Liberation or Fig Leaf of Legitimation?

Date & Venue: 23 January 2010, Newcastle Law School, Newcastle University, UK.

This symposium draws upon the proliferation of academic commentary asserting that the international human rights project is in a state of crisis in the first decade of the twenty-first century, requiring a re-evaluation of both its impact and its future direction. With papers from world leading authorities on human rights, this symposium provides a forum for assessing the effectiveness of human rights as an element of international law and in the domestic context of the United Kingdom in the face of these renewed and novel challenges. Moreover, this symposium draws together human rights sceptics and supporters from across disparate strands of transatlantic human rights scholarship.

Confirmed Speakers

Professor David Kennedy, Harvard University ‘The International Human Rights Movement: Still Part of the Problem?’

Professor Christine Bell, University of Ulster – ‘Human rights activism, expertise and academic inquiry: beyond legitimation v emancipation – a self-critical reflection’

Professor Keith Ewing, Kings College London – Title TBC

Professor David Bonner, University of Leicester – ‘If you cannot change the rules of the game, adapt to them: United Kingdom responses to the restrictions set by Article 3 ECHR on “national security” deportations’

Mr. Steven Wheatley, Reader, University of Leeds – ‘The problematic authority of international human rights law.’

A limited number of places for delegates are available on a first-come-first-served basis, at a cost of £30 per head (or £10 per head for full-time postgraduates), inclusive of lunch and refreshments. Full details of the Conference Programme are available on the Newcastle Law School website

For further details regarding this symposium, please contact the Symposium Co-ordinators, Dr Rob Dickinson ( or Dr Ole W. Pedersen (

Please make all cheques for delegate fees payable to Newcastle University and send them to Dr Rob Dickinson, Symposium Co-ordinator, Newcastle Law School, 21-24 Windsor Terrace, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 7RU.

Purdy and Assisted Suicide in the Northern Ireland Assembly

October 20, 2009 2 comments

Debbie Purdy & Omar PuenteIn heated Assembly debate last week MLAs took turns to pour scorn on the House of Lords decision in R (on the application of Purdy) v Director of Public Prosecutions [2009] UKHL 45. At the end of July Debbie Purdy (pictured with her husband, Omar Puente), who suffers from primary progressive multiple sclerosis, succeeded in her judicial review seeking further guidance upon the exercise of prosecutorial discretion should her husband assist her if she chose to commit suicide. In the aftermath of this decision the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales and the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland undertook to clarify their guidance.

Mr Danny Kennedy (UUP, Newry & Armagh) rounded on the courts as the instigators of the assisted suicide debate:

‘The present debate in the UK flows from the decision that the Law Lords made a relatively short time after Parliament had spoken definitively against suicide. That is not how the law in the United Kingdom or anywhere should be made. The courts exist to interpret law, not to make it’.

Mr Simon Hamilton (DUP, Strangford) followed with an assertion that, ‘we were seeing another example of potential legislating from the bench. That is not the way that law is or should be made in this part of the world. Law is supposed to be made by legislators such as us and enacted in the courts by the judiciary, not made by the judiciary itself’.

Read more…

New light shed on the Gibraltar Shootings?

October 14, 2009 1 comment

Published last week, Cambridge Historian Professor Christopher Andrew’s new book, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5, builds upon a volume of research upon the security services stretching back to his 1985 study, Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community, and beyond. What makes his latest work even more significant is its unique status as the only ever authorised history of the organisation.

Siobhan O'Hanlon (from C. Andrew)Amid the mass of information covering 100 years of MI5’s history that is contained in the 851 pages which make up the body of this book, the media have picked up on Andrew’s extended analysis (including surveillance pictures, left) of the security service’s perspective upon the notorious killing by the SAS of three Provisional IRA members involved in preparations to plant a bomb near the Governor’s Residence in Gibraltar on 6th March 1988 (739-746).

After a confused response in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, the then Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe provided the official version of events to Parliament the following afternoon:

‘About 3.30 pm, all three left the scene and started to walk back towards the border. On their way towards the border, they were challenged by the security forces. When challenged, they made movements which led the military personnel operating in support of the Gibraltar police to conclude that their own lives and the lives of others were under threat. In the light of this response, they were shot. Those killed were subsequently found not to have been carrying arms. The parked Renault car was subsequently dealt with by a military bomb disposal team. It has now been established that it did not contain an explosive device.’ (HC Deb 07 March 1988 vol. 129 col. 21)

Read more…

Categories: Commentary, Terrorism

Belfast Roma Attacks: The Assembly’s Response

October 8, 2009 2 comments

Fallout from the racist intimidation of Roma families living in Belgravia Avenue and Wellesley Avenue in South Belfast this June continued this week as the Northern Ireland Assembly debated a motion moved by MLA Anna Lo (South Belfast, Alliance Party) recognising the contribution of migrant workers to society in Northern Ireland and requesting that the Executive urgently review the support provided to migrant workers.

Whilst most of the families immediately affecteRoma Attacksd by June’s violence returned to the Bihor region of Romania in the immediate aftermath of the attacks (pictured left), over 30,000 migrant workers from ten newest member states of the European Union remain in Northern Ireland, predominantly living in Belfast and in the large towns of Dungannon and Craigavon (although immigration is decreasing during the recession).

Having highlighted the perilous position under UK law of migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania in particular, Ms Lo argued that migrants did not receive adequate attention from the work of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and called for the re-establishment of the now moribund Racial Equality Forum.

One protectionist voice, Thomas Buchanan (DUP, West Tyrone), resisted these calls with assertions that, ‘[a] practical and sensitive approach must be taken to calls for jobs to be retained for our own local workers. Although we are aware of the immense contribution that migrant workers make, nevertheless, in the middle of a recession and in the face of increased unemployment, we must get our priorities right in securing employment for our local people.’

In relation to immigration (which under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 remains a reserved issue administered from Westminster), the tone of the debate was at times ominously studded with references to “the troubles”, with Tom Elliot (Fermanagh & South Tyrone, UUP), in particular claiming that, ‘if we are not careful, we will have constant conflict, which could become the new sectarianism of Northern Ireland, in which the traditions of locals and migrants will be pitched against each other instead of the old Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions.’

In his response to the motion, the Minister for Employment and Learning, Sir Reg Empey (East Belfast, UUP), reiterated the Executive’s commitment in their Programme for Government to deliver, ‘a peaceful, fair and prosperous society … with respect for the rule of law’. Nonetheless, he had to acknowledge that the work of the Racial Equality Forum had underpinned the Executive’s policy regarding migrant workers.

Whilst the Equality Commission is in the midst of a major report on migrant workers (due to be delivered in early 2010), it operates at arm’s length from the Executive, maintaining an oversight function. By contrast, the Racial Equality Forum, which brought together senior representatives of government departments, statutory agencies and voluntary organisations helped to direct the Northern Ireland Executive’s focus to the aims set out in A Racial Equality Strategy for Northern Ireland.

The importance of Anna Lo’s motion lies in the fact that such consistent inculcation of human rights and the principle of equality within the executive branch remains a central plank of efforts to uphold these values.

Blasphemy, Sedition and the Defamation Act 2009

September 11, 2009 5 comments

lordlesterJuly 2009 produced a strange legislative symmetry in the Oireachtas and the UK Parliament. At the same time both legislatures found themselves debating the abolition of the offence of sedition, a common law offence which was already all but moribund at the time of Ireland’s independence. In his excitement at the prospect of the proposed abolition of sedition in the United Kingdom in the Coroners and Justice Bill currently before Parliament, Lord Lester of Herne Hill (left) cast a baleful eye across the Irish Sea at the ‘hilariously ironic’ events in the Oireachtas. For, just as the United Kingdom finally moves to abolish the offence of sedition, a mere 30 years after a UK Law Commission Working Paper advised it to do so, Ireland seems unable to extirpate this offence from its Constitution.

Read more…