I’m lending my support to the blogger Alan Murray who is seeking legal aid to advance a claim of wrongful arrest against the police.
Alan was charged with harassment of people he had named in his amazing blog about the ruination of the Holy Land area of Belfast.
In all justice, he had to be acquitted or the right of bloggers and journalists to comment on public affairs would have been endangered.
If you are a working journalist who agrees with me on this, please sign the letter below and we’ll give it to lawyers supporting Alan Murray.
The acquittal of the blogger Alan Murray in July 2008 on Harassment Charges is a source of great relief to journalists. A conviction would have implied a threat to the freedom of journalists to do our job. Every time we criticised politicians or other persons of public interest, we would be looking over our shoulders lest we be cautioned or prosecuted by the police.
The bail conditions placed upon Mr Murray, subsequently overturned, were so draconian that he was not even allowed to mention the complainant on his blog or attend public meetings at which the complainant was present.
The police were exercising their powers to restrict free and legal expression and compounding the impression created by the unwarranted prosecution, that Mr Murry’s blogging was a danger to others. This is an especially sinister abuse of power by the police.
It is a matter of considerable concern that despite the acquittal of Mr Murray, other bloggers have been arrested under the Harassment legislation.
The use of Harrassment legislation against innocent bloggers exercising their rights to free expression is a matter for grave concern by all bloggers and journalists and all who value the freedom to report and comment on public affairs.
We believe that Mr Murray’s case against the PSNI for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution has merit and is very much in the public interest.
It is hard for Sinn Fein leaders to say plainly that those who can help catch the dissident should take their evidence to the police. They have, however, come as close to stating that baldly as they have ever done.
In the past their reactions to the dissidents have amounted to a call that they should come forward and explain themselves, as if the objective was to get them into talks rather than into jail.
Martin McGuinness has been better at the condemnatory language than the prescriptive. So the dissidents are ‘enemies’ and ‘traitors’ who should remove themselves from the scene.
We can’t doubt that he is bloody furious with them and it is hardly surprising.
The dissidents are using the strategy that worked for past generations of the IRA.
In January 1919, Dan Breen’s men shot dead two RIC officers and started a guerilla war that would lead to the total collapse of the British state in Ireland.
When Irish people were unwilling to join the police or be seen in their company, and huge numbers discarded their uniforms for their own safety, then Ireland became a problem for the army straggling back from Europe, a political problem to be resolved urgently.
In the 1970s and ’80s, the IRA attacks on the RUC helped deepen the rift between the police and the Catholic people. Few Catholics would join and the reality of a Protestant force made reform an essential part of political settlement.
The aim had been to make Northern ireland ungovernable and to put Irish unity on the table. That bit didn’t work.
Similarly, when the British tried to ease pressure on the police and replace the totally protestant B Specials in 1970, they created a local regiment, the Ulster Defence Regiment and urged Catholics to join.
The IRA bombed those Catholics in their cars and shot them and soon the UDR was almost exclusively Protestant and that brick in the new dispensation being attempted was invalidated.
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness know that history better than most of us.
They therefore understand what the dissidents hope to achieve and have a sense of how realistic their target is.
If Catholics shrink back from joining the PSNI, in the context of the abolition of the 50/50 rule securing places for them, then Sinn Fein could find itself in partnership in government with an almost exclusively Protestant police force.
The party could not live with that.
All the reforms of policing, the ombudsman and the board and all the human rights legislation would not cover the indignity of Catholic republicans being pursued by Protestant police officers and of suspect, but often innocent, young Catholics being arested, searched and questioned.
McGuinness knows that policing is the loose brick in the peace wall because his own tradition in republicanism trained him to loosen that brick in the hopes that the wall would tumble.
That being the case, he has no choice but to defend the police and the Catholics who have joined and who might join. In doing so, he is defending his own position and his political legacy.
If we revert to Protestant policing, everything he has done will have been in vain.
A thought that should perhaps have occurred to Owen Paterson before he scrapped the 50/50 rule.
The collapse of Catholic policing must be McGuinness’ worst nightmare. It would amount to his own peace accord with the DUP being undermined by the same methods which he used himself against the old Stormont and Direct Rule.
There would be an elegant karmic symmetry to it that one might relish if it wasn’t such an appalling prospect for the rest of us too.
So Sinn fein must now signal to the Catholic community and to other republicans that touting is no longer a sin or a crime. They must encourage a flow of information to the police about the dissidents and help put them out of business.
And they must take a lead in that.
This is the hard part for republicans. Michael Collins in 1921 stormed his former comrades holed up in the Four Courts and blew them to oblivion. History is letting the Provos off lightly in not plunging them into their own civil war.
On balance, McGuinness must surely see that this is not as hard as facing into failure would be.
He is already being told that he is a hypocrite for condemning the murder of Ronan Kerr, having endorsed the murders of 301 other police officers, a policewoman shot in the back outside Derry Courthouse, men shot on their doorsteps, coming from church, visiting hospitals.
Hard too will be the challenge of preserving that memory as honorable while telling those who would use the same methods today that they are enemies and traitors.
Today Martin McGuinness says that the police must win. Now he must tell the dissidents that he was in the wrong too; that the best evidence that they can’t win is that the Provos didn’t win either.
And he must sit down with the Chief Constable, if he hasn’t done already, and tell him everything he knows that might help him nail the old diehards.
Two of my occasional colleagues on media projects and panels will have a little business to settle today.
When Eoghan Harris visited the West Belfast festival he took a wager from Jude Collins. Eoghan had said that Sinn Fein would lose all its seats to Fianna Fail in the next Dail General Election, the one that was held yesterday.
Jude offered him a £100 bet on that and asked what odds Eoghan would give him. Eoghan offered ten to one.
Perhaps unfortunately for Eoghan, I recorded the sealing of the deal.
This is the blog of my journalism and recordings, with some extracts from my books too.
I tend to sound off on Northern Ireland Politics and Culture.
Some of the work here will be recent journalism, articles that have appeared in the Belfast Telegraph or elsewhere, but there is a lot of material going back a couple of years now, so please hang around and browse.