Flawed and unacceptable Policing Bill
BY FERN LANE
The Policing (Northern Ireland) Bill received its second reading
in the House of Commons on Tuesday, 6 July, with only the most
minor concessions being made by Peter Mandelson to the concerns
of republicans and nationalists. The bill still constitutes what
Gerry Adams called the ``emasculation'' of the Patten Report.
Although Mandelson told the House of Commons that he had an ``open
mind'' on possible amendments and that the Bill could be further
``fine-tuned'' as it goes through the Committee stage, thus far the
only `concessions' on the table are on the retention of the
proposal to change the working title of the police service and on
the powers of the new Police Board. Whilst he conceded that the
Bill had placed too many limitations on the power of the Police
Board - which will replace the Police Authority - to order
inquiries, Mandelson nevertheless retained formidable powers
controlling the workings of this and other regulatory bodies.
Further, serving officers, unlike new recruits, will still not be
required to take a new oath as recommended in Patten. They will
merely be required to undergo retraining on human rights and to
sign up to a new code of ethics.
Mandelson will also have the power to decide on the issue of
emblems, and the name of the RUC is to be incorporated in the
``title deeds'' of the proposed act - although during Tuesday's
lengthy debate, no one was able to define exactly what such a
title deed actually is. A Unionist and Conservative amendment,
retaining the name and emblems of the RUC intact, was defeated.
Republicans have made clear that Patten represents only a
starting point for a transformation of policing in the Six
Counties, the bare minimum level of change required to begin to
create a police service acceptable to the nationalist population.
It does not, and should not, represent some far-distant ideal or
vague, unachievable aspiration which can be constantly blocked by
Mandelson's dilution of Patten could have profound implications
for the entire peace process. It could also have a serious impact
on what has hitherto been solid support for the Agreement by
nationalists in the Six Counties.
At a press conference in Westminster on Tuesday, Sinn Fein's Pat
Doherty, who was with fellow Assembly member Gerry Kelly as part
of a party delegation lobbying on the bill, said that policing is
a ``touchstone issue for nationalist and republican people. It is
very, very serious. We need a new policing service; we were
promised that in the Good Friday Agreement and it must be
delivered. There isn't a single nationalist out there who hasn't
had a horror story with the RUC.''
On Wednesday, 7 June, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said: ``The
British Secretary of State is reported today as claiming that his
Police Bill is ``all about balance and negotiation''. The Police
Bill should have been about implementing the Patten report.
``The reality is that in its current draft the Police Bill
requires at least 75 changes to bring it into line with the 175
recommendations that came from the Patten Commission. Many of
these are on fundamental issues.
``After yesterday's second reading of the Bill, many of these
issues remain unresolved. Instead, Mr. Mandelson indicated that
he was prepared to consider amendments to his Bill. He has also
said that it remains his preferred option that a legal
description in the Bill would incorporate the RUC title. This is
not good enough.
``The Mandelson Policing Bill is flawed in significant and
unacceptable ways. Sinn Féin has identified all of this in
detail and we have engaged both the British and Irish governments
in an intense and focused way for some time now.
``Other political parties, as well as a range of religious, human
rights and justice groups, have also made representation. In fact
there has been an unprecedented response to the emasculation of
the Patten Report. Unionist rejection of the Bill should not
change this. Neither should any nationalist party have voted for