By End Deportations Belfast
1. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill is designed to introduce new police powers and review the rules around crime and justice across England and Wales. Whilst only a handful of clauses can be applied to Northern Ireland directly, any bill that expands police powers, attacks the Gypsy, Roma & Traveller way of life and diminishes the right to protest anywhere, is an attack on all of us.
2. We already have a police force drunk on power in Northern Ireland. Take just one example – we have the third highest police ‘stop and search’ rate, but the lowest ‘stop and search’ arrest rate in the UK. Children, working class communities, people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds and particularly Irish Travellers are all disproportionately targeted by PSNI for stop and search. This is an ongoing abuse of power.
3. What becomes normalised in England and Wales will become the norm here in Northern Ireland too. Take for example immigration detention, Northern Ireland’s immigration detention centre, Larne House situated in PSNI Larne, opened in 2011. Anna Morvern wrote for the Institute of Race Relations that: “Once opened and operational, Larne House may no longer be seen as a shocking place to exist here, but as a familiar and accepted feature of the landscape in the north.” Ten years later, it is still here, ten years later no alternatives to detention have been explored or used in Northern Ireland (Law Centre NI).
4. Clauses 54-60 in part 3 of the bill effectively criminalise protests that cause disruption. Chris Daw QC said that “the bill hands over the power of deciding whether a protest is justified or should be allowed – decisions we as citizens have had for generations – given directly to the Home Secretary. That’s an extremely chilling development.” Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which the UK remains signed up to, enshrines the right to freedom of assembly and association, this is not for the Home Secretary to decide upon or for police forces to take away. Belfast-based criminologist, Gillian McNaull predicts that “social unrest is on the horizon and the government is bolstering their authoritarian tool-belt in preparation.” We agree 100%.
5. The bill will set a precedent of keeping protest out of the sight of those in power, take for example this quote from Sir David Amess, a Conservative MP speaking in Commons in support of the bill: “My office looks over Parliament Square. I have long complained about the endless demonstrations that take place … It is very difficult to work because of the noise—the drums, horns and loudspeakers … our work should not be disrupted.” Nuisance, noise or disruption cannot be a bar to effective protest.
6. But don’t just take our word, Sinéad Marmion from Phoenix Law in Belfast told us: “The bill is an assault on protest rights, a cornerstone of democratic society. This will curb the freedom of expression and public disquiet around large societal issues. Increased police powers mean that it’s likely there will be an increase in racial discrimination in policing and more likely to face violence from police at protests.”
7. This is highly concerning given the discriminatory policing we regularly witness in Northern Ireland, blatantly exemplified in the context of the Black Lives Matter Protest in Belfast and Derry. Ivanka Antova from United Against Racism Belfast, one of the organisers of the Black Lives Matter protest on June 6th 2020 in Belfast told us that the bill “gives unprecedented wide powers to the police to shut down dissent. It will have a disproportionate negative effect on Black people and POC people, make targeting people’s movements, such as BLM, XR and Reclaim the Agenda easier and contributing to institutional racism and the hostile environment.”
8. Given the contested history of policing in NI and the important legacy of the civil rights movement, we oppose any change in legislation that increases police powers. Even the recent rioting has shown that the answer to ongoing tensions is not in the use of water cannons and display of force, but rather in the committed efforts of community leaders and workers on the ground. We want to see a concrete commitment from those in power to support such vital services for our communities, rather than devolve additional resources to policing.
(Photo credit: Brendan Harkin)