MPs and others criticise Police Bill
BY JAYNE FISHER
A Westminster meeting on 5 June expressed the growing concern and anger over the failure of the British government's Policing Bill to implement the Good Friday Agreement's commitment to a new beginning for policing in the north of Ireland. The meeting, organised by the cross party pressure group Friends of Ireland - Friends of the Good Friday Agreement, had been called to coincide with the eve of the second reading of the Bill. The wide-ranging audience, filling the Commons Westminster Hall, encompassed MPs, members of the House of Lords, representatives of Irish community organisations and lobby groups. Speakers and contributions from the floor reflected the seriousness of the issue, which was at the heart of the Agreement.
Norman Godman MP explained why he had signed Kevin McNamara MP's ``reasoned amendment'' which called for the bill to be denied a second reading for failing to provide the new beginning for policing envisaged in the Agreement. He said the bill did not get his support as it stands and would have to be ``radically and comprehensively amended''. LSE professor Brendan O'Leary attacked the ``serious weakening'' of the powers of the police board and condemned the bill as ``drafted by the forces of conservatism for the forces of conservatism''. He said: ``Patten didn't go as far as some of us wanted. Nonetheless, it deserved a fair wind - it is not getting that in the Policing Bill.'' He added: ``Those of us who worked hard on the Commission
feel betrayed by the Bill.''
Kevin McNamara MP said the issue of policing is ``the most important point of all the issues in the Good Friday Agreement''. He cited examples of shoot-to-kill policy, collusion, destruction of evidence by the security services, the case of Robert Hamill and the ``catologue of daily harassment ` as evidence of ``the need for a new beginning''.
Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty told the meeting that the policing issue ``lies at the heart of conflict resolution in Ireland''. The current bill, he said, ``bears no resemblance to Patten'' and should be rejected. He called upon everyone present to exert pressure on the British government to ensure that ``the goal of a proper and acceptable policing service is achieved''.
Both the Alliance Party and the Women's Coalition, who were unable to attend the meeting, sent statements expressing their `reservations' over the Bill. The Women's Coalition said it was ``essential to remain true to the spirit and letter of Patten''.
From the Chair, John McDonnell MP told the meeting that the Friends would be campaigning on this issue for the duration of the Bill's passage through parliament, which was likely to last until at least the summer recess in July and very likely beyond. He called for all those concerned with implementing the agreement to mobilise in their own organisations and areas to urge the government to urgently think again.