Republican News · Thursday 8 June 1999

[An Phoblacht]

Flawed and unacceptable Policing Bill


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 unionist opposition.

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 the Bill.''

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