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Police reforms led to current street violence

The outbreak of political violence was foreseeable. It was inevitable that, once loyalist elements perceived - rightly or wrongly - the PSNI as policing the enforcement of a political policy, believed by them to support a republican agenda, violence would result.

The flag issue is merely the detonator for an increasing resentment of Sinn Fein's triumphalism.

In October 1998, in a written submission to the Patten Commission on policing, I warned that: "Recent events and attacks upon RUC personnel were evidence of a change in perception from one of support to a view that the RUC is policing a Government policy which threatens the expression of the majority community's political national and cultural identity.

"As yet, this change in perception is restricted, but the potential for its growth is in direct proportion to the progression of the policy."

While economic factors have put Sinn Fein's goal of a united Ireland on hold, its new objective of increasing its political power in Northern Ireland has intensified.

Central to this is the party's ongoing pressure to remove, or diminish, the symbols of the Union.

Regardless of its consequences and at a time calculated to cause maximum disruption, Sinn Fein has cynically pursued its strategy.

This, coupled with the political naivety of the Alliance Party, detonated the violence, which loyalist groups - once courted and subsidised by the British Government in aid of its policy - have now exploited.

I concluded my submission to Patten by observing that: "Police reforms designed to provide a police force that will service Government policy will simply shift an unfavourable perception of the police role from the minority to the majority, with the attendant disastrous consequences for both the police and public order."

The DUP's fraternisation with Sinn Fein has fuelled loyalist and unionist fears that the political and cultural welfare of their community has been made secondary to the interests of their representatives at Stormont, in whom they are increasingly losing confidence. Violence is thus replacing political leadership.

The lesson of Sinn Fein - that violence gets results - has been well and truly absorbed by its 'loyalist' counterparts. Deja vu.

R L McCARTNEY QC

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