Short shrift for Mandelson Bill in Derry
BY SINEAD MacLOCHLAINN
The Gasyard Wall Féile held a debate/discussion on policing last Saturday, 19 August, at Pilots Row in the Bogside, sponsored by the Pat Finucane Center and chaired by Brian McFadden of the BBC and local Radio Foyle. Among those participating were Sinn Féin Assembly member Mitchel McLaughlin, Waterside SDLP Councillor Phil Kelly, and Christine Bell of the Six-County Human Rights Commission.
Mitchel McLaughlin said the Mandelson bill fell ``a million miles'' short of the minimum standards required for a new beginning as put forth by Sinn Féin. He gave a chilling account of the current situation with increasing loyalist tension and failure of the British government to stand up to securocrats who seem to slow down reform at every opportunity. For whatever reason, Blair decided to allow Mandelson pander to unionist opposition to change and to the securocrat opposition to ceding power over policing to democratic accountability. The result was a concession too far on this issue, which was a touchstone of the whole peace process.
If we are to at least make a start to resolving the policing issue, then Patten must be implemented in its entirety, nothing less. Without Patten, we have no peace process.
``As an Irish republican I never thought I would see the day that I would admit this - but I do believe that Patten (an English Tory and former NIO minister) made an honest endeavour to come up with a solution,'' said McLaughlin. ``What he came back with was not what republicans were and still are seeking - the complete disbandment of the RUC. But what he did produce was a basis for a beginning. But, given that this ``new beginning'', which republicans were not even sure about, has now been compromised by Mandelson's pandering to unionists, what we have now is a situation created by the British where republicans are trying to get back to a compromise we never really wanted in the first place.''
This was the overwhelming opinion of the audience, and it showed in their frustration over a lack of understanding of the changes being made almost weekly to Patten. Changes which were pointed out by Prof. Christine Bell as being very ``tricky in the legal sense'' so as to foster confusion.
``Sinn Fein has maintained the position that if we are to at least make a start to resolving the policing issue, then Patten must be implemented in its entirety, nothing less,'' said Mitchel McLaughlin. ``Without Patten, we have no peace process. The British government must get the message - Patten is the floor and not the ceiling. Patten did not go far enough and if what the British government produces is anything less than Patten then Sinn Féin will not be recommending the Mandelson police force as a career choice for young republicans or nationalists.''
McLaughlin made it clear that the propaganda disseminated in briefings by British government spin doctors that Sinn Fein will never accept any police service is nothing but a lie. ``Sinn Fein is intent on getting a new policing service but we will settle for nothing less than a new policing service.'' Republicans want and need the security of decent, democratic and accountable policing.''
Philip Kelly of the SDLP agreed that Patten was essential. He seemed to be a bit unclear as to just where his party stood with regards to the Mandelson police bill and Patten, although he did say that he felt anything less than Patten was unacceptable as he continued throughout the discussion to agree with Mitchel McLaughlin. When asked point blank if both the SDLP and Sinn Féin would accept the Mandelson Bill on policing if Patten was not possible, McLaughlin answered with a resounding ``no'' while Kelly gave a quiet ``no'' but followed up with ``at the moment'', which all too often seems to be the SDLP's position on policing.
The Mandelson bill was universally rejected and several had misgivings about Patten itself. As Patten was the compromise, we feel it is impossible to now ask us to `compromise on the compromise'.