Police Bill a broken promise
Just as the Peter Mandelson's flawed Police Bill was being hurried through its final vote in the House of Commons on a guillotine motion at Westminster on Tuesday night, 21 November, Sinn Féin national chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin, together with the Alliance Party's David Ford and Women's Coalition member and Deputy Speaker of the Assembly, Jane Morrice, was addressing a meeting of the Friends of the Good Friday Agreement in the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons a short distance away.
As the television screens in the room flashed up the names of each of the speakers on the bill in turn, McLaughlin explained to his audience why the party is so angry about the promises made and broken by the British government on the critical issue of police reform and the way in which such reform has been sacrificed for the sake of David Trimble and the Ulster Unionist Party. He also explained the profound difficulties which the failure to implement Pattern would create both in the medium and longer term.
``We may well be at the end of this particular journey,'' he said of the current state of the peace process; ``not at conflict resolution, not at a democratic settlement, not at an end to weapons in our society nor an end to the mindsets which makes people use those weapons and not at the point where there is a bridge of trust between the British government, the Irish government and the political parties on the island of Ireland.
``David Trimble's actions of a few weeks ago have been rationalised by some as `what else could he do?' and by others as a clear step by the leadership of the UUP into the No camp, on to an agenda determined by an unelected body called the Ulster Unionist Council, who are threatening to pull down the shutters on the Assembly, on the Executive, and on all our hopes.
But, he went on, there are continual threats to the process ``What is happening in this House today is a direct threat. The British government gave a formal, open, voluntary commitment to deliver Patten. They also made an agreement with the IRA on 5 May at the Hillsborough negotiations that they would deliver Patten in full.
``The British government are quite deliberately, quite cynically, in a planned fashion, reneging on the public promise which they made in May this year, and that essential bridge of trust between the IRA and the British government has been broken. David Trimble, too, has embarked on a course of action where he is saying that, unless the IRA re-engages with De Chastelain in a substantial fashion, he will progressively terminate the North/South dimension of the Good Friday Agreement.'' In the light of the betrayal of the Police Bill, asked McLaughlin, ``does anyone believe it is possible now to go back to the IRA and say to them to re-engage with De Chastelain?''
The Police Bill, he continued, is ``a broken promise, done deliberately, quite consciously'', although it is not that British government don't understand the implications of breaking that promise. ``They have been told over and over again. Not just by Sinn Féin, but by the SDLP, by the Irish government, by the College of Catholic Bishops and by individual members of the Patten Commission itself. They have said, `look, you are making a mess of this; you are reneging on commitments you have made'. All of that is a demonstration, again, of a partial approach, of a partisan approach.
``So you get the situation such as last week in Derry, where the Chief Constable had the brass neck to tell the council that he was not going to take down the surveillance tower which looks into people's bedrooms on a 24-hour basis. Those are the issues which are like daggers to the throat of the peace process.''