The issue of Community Restorative Justice schemes has been a controversial in recent months and years. In an attempt to disguise their ill-timed move onto the Policing Board before the promised "new start to policing" had been achieved, the SDLP, and people like Alex Attwood in particular, have attacked CRJ schemes simply because they do not toe the line which the SDLP expect Nationalists to believe- that the PSNI are the be-all and end-all of any justice system in the north.
Restorative Justice can be a divisive issue in the criminal justice arena in general, outside of the north, however it is entirely wrong for certain elements to muddy the waters as they try to blacken the name of Restorative schemes. CRJ is not run by Republicans for Republicans, as its opponents try to make out. Rather as former Northern Ireland international and current CRJ volunteer Tony O'Doherty points out;
If I thought for one moment that CRJ was a political organisation, or run by a political organisation, I would resign immediately.
Mr. O'Doherty rightly points out that rather than ignorantly proclaiming their prejudices, the SDLP should actually have a look at the good work which CRJ schemes have undertaken;
A victim is a victim – pure and simple. Most of the criticism has come from the SDLP, but I don’t want to enter an argument, there are many tremendous and forward-thinking people within the SDLP, but I think that some in the party are emotionally blinkered when it comes to the issue of Community Restorative Justice
We can’t be used as a political football and we are not going to disappear. CRJ has a role for a long time to come, but we don’t believe that we are the only people. Political sound bites do not help this debate, we deliver for our own people. We deal with people across the social spectrum and don’t categorise anyone.
Personally I don't believe that CRJ can be a final solution for the policing problem in the north, however it does have an important role to play. Certainly it is extremely unhelpful for people to attack the scheme yet fail to recognise the good work that is being done. I salute Mr. O'Doherty and those like him, in this day and age people who actually care about their communities are in far too short supply.