Friday, 29 July 2011

McGuinness inadvertently highlights problem with multiple mandates.

During the course of their investigation into the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr, the PSNI decided that they needed to arrest certain people and they decided the best way to do this was through raids. They also decided to alert the media to the raids. After the individuals arrested were detained and questioned, they were released, without charge, save for one woman. Following this, Martin McGuinness criticised the PSNI for the raids and the arrests.

McGuinness was critical of the arrest of one individual in particular, a 22 yr old man who was apparently in America at the time of the murder. He also made a point that the arrests had caused anger in the area.

Ignoring the fact that a) that the man was in the USA at the time of the actual murder is irrelevant (unless McGuinness has had inappropriate access to the investigation, he doesn't know what role the police may have suspected he had in the murder) and b) upsetting the local community must never be the reason to not arrest a murder suspect, what McGuinness has really done is to shine a light on the problem with him (and others) holding multiple mandates.

When McGuinness spoke, did he speak as Deputy First Minister, MLA for the area, or MP for the area? Sinn Fein, when issuing the press release that followed McGuinness' comments referred to him speaking as an MP for the area. That's fair enough and in many respects it is not completely out of line for an MP to criticise an ongoing police investigation. However, McGuinness is not just an MP. Most importantly of all, he is the Deputy First Minister. The problem with multiple mandates is that the Deputy First Minister should not be levelling such criticisms at the PSNI without due process and, because of his dual role as MP, that is what McGuinness has done.

In performing his role as an MP, he has compromised his role as DFM. Whilst Sinn Fein may try and defend their position, they know that really, they can't. The evidence is in their own press release. If this was something that was OK for the Deputy First Minister to say, then why would he not say it in that role? Which role carries more weight in regard to Policing & Justice? After all, it is a devolved issue.

When Matt Baggott refers the issue to the policing board, as he has indicated he would, will the Sinn Fein members on the board approach the issue without prejudice? After all, the leader of Sinn Fein in Stormont has already passed judgement on the issue. What likelihood a full retraction & apology from the Deputy First Minister? McGuinness has a responsibility within the executive to support the institutions within it. The accountability comes from within the Policing Board. When the second most senior member of our government circumvents that, then what purpose do they serve?

I make no judgement on the validity of the arrests or the raids that bought them about - that itself is a separate issue. What is important though, is to note the anomaly that has come to light because of the dual mandates we still tolerate. 

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