Policing Bill totally unacceptable
This week has been dominated by fears that the British government was again going to jeopardise the peace process by entertaining unionist demands. On the last occasion, Tony Blair handed David Trimble a guarantee on the decommissioning issue which led to the British government's unilateral suspension of the Good Friday Agreement institutions.
This week, the Policing Bill has moved centre stage. The IRA's initiative on arms pocketed, the Ulster Unionists have moved on to seek a dilution of the Patten proposals on policing.
The British published their policing legislation on Monday, and Sinn Féin spokesperson on policing Bairbre de Brún has described it as totally unacceptable.
In a statement outlining Sinn Féin's position, she said:
``The Good Friday Agreement established an independent commission to bring forward proposals for a new beginning to policing.
``Given the history of the RUC and nationalist rejection of it, an independent mechanism for a new and proper policing service was needed to provide assurances that the mistakes of the past would not be repeated.
``The Patten proposals did not in themselves go far enough for republicans, particularly in terms of plastic bullets, an unarmed police service, emergency legislation and the role of human rights abusers in any new service.
`` The British government could have dealt with these matters in the interim, but have chosen instead to dilute the Patten recommendations.
``Under the Bill published on Tuesday, the British Secrtary of State will become the sole arbiter of change in a number of crucial areas. For Peter Mandelson to take on to himself the power to take these decisions runs contrary to the Good Friday Agreement.
``It is totally unacceptable that the legislation does not implement a number of the key proposals contained in Patten Report. The most glaring of these include:
The recommendations on the name, badge, flag and accountability all depart from Patten.
The Policing Board is seriously restricted in its powers.
The Ombudsman is seriously restricted in his/her powers.
The power of the District Policing Partnerships are restricted and there is no mention of four sub-groups for Belfast
The oath is only taken on appointment by new recruits.
The code of ethics is left solely in the hands of the police themselves.
There is no assurance that there will be an independent recruitment agency.
The Oversight Commissioner is not in the new legislation but an RUC foundation is.
There is no assurance that the Patten recommendations on plastic bullets, the Special Branch, community representation and new policing practices will be carried through.
The definition of policing with the community stands the aim of Patten on its head.
``The British government cannot be serious about wanting a policing service which can attract and sustain support from the nationalist and republican section of our community while they publish a Bill of this nature.
``The legislation does not fulfil the commitment given by the two government in their letter to the party leaders 12 days ago.
``Policing is a touchstone issue for nationalists and republicans. The Bill presented by the British government is totally unacceptable.''