By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The SDLP and Sinn Féin have defended Sen. Edward Kennedy after British Northern Secretary Peter Mandelson accused him of being "out of touch," "out of date" and unable to "see things in the round" over policing reform in Northern Ireland.
The Massachusetts Democrat later repeated his view that the British government has failed to deliver the new start required for policing in Northern Ireland — itself an implied criticism of Mandelson’s dismissal of his stand.
Against the backdrop of this latest row involving an Irish-American politician and the British government, a Senate resolution on the RUC sponsored by Kennedy has been delayed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
A Kennedy spokesman, Jim Manley, told the Echo Tuesday that the committee chairman, Sen. Jesse Helms, had "problems with some of the language" in the resolution. The resolution mirrors an already approved House resolution that calls for full implementation of the Patten Commission recommendations for reform of the RUC.
Manley said that Kennedy was "trying to work things out" with Helms before the Senate goes into recess for the upcoming elections.
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The row involving Kennedy and Mandelson, meanwhile, is more evidence of the rift between the British government and U.S. politicians over policing. Already, Vice President Al Gore, the House of Representatives and its speaker have clashed with London over its failure to implement the Patten Commission’s recommendations. GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush has also supported full implementation of Patten.
This latest disagreement erupted after Kennedy wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post last Wednesday in which he said the British government has made a number of "unwise concessions" to the unionists.
Kennedy drew attention to RUC collusion with loyalists and referred to what he considers shortcomings in the British government’s Police Bill, citing the RUC’s new name, badge and flag, the role of Oversight Commissioner and the powers of the Police Board.
Later, Mandelson said during a BBC interview that Kennedy "sees everything in Northern Ireland through the spectacles of one side alone.
"I mean he doesn’t see things in the round and on the question of Patten, I mean he’s simply out of touch, he’s out of date, as I have pointed out in a letter I have written to him," Mandelson said.
"We are past the stage of resolving sensitive policy issues by rhetoric and slogans. What is needed is give and take among local parties on the basis of the Patten Report."
In response, Kennedy told the Echo, "Notwithstanding his remarks, I continue to be very hopeful that the House of Lords will recognize the serious problems in the Commons’ version of the Patten legislation, and act in good faith to deal with these problems."
The SDLP’s Alex Attwood said: "Senator Kennedy has long been a key player. His role has been authoritative, balanced and informed. His criticism of the Police Bill is absolutely correct. The British government would be better advised rectifying its defects instead of criticizing others."
A Sinn Féin source said Mandelson’s remarks about Kennedy "reflected an arrogance which has bedeviled attempts to get Patten implemented in full. Our principle problem has not been with the unionists but with the Northern Ireland Office establishment.
"Kennedy and U.S. politicians in general are well able to defend themselves, but Mandelson’s attitude is indicative of a view within the British government that they have lost the political and propaganda battle in the U.S. over policing," the source said.
A leading academic critic of the British government’s record on Patten, Professor Brendan O’Leary of the London School of Economics, who made a submission to a U.S. congressional committee 10 days ago on policing, also had hard words for Mandelson’s criticism of Kennedy.
"Senator Kennedy has had a long, honorable and deeply knowledgeable involvement in Irish affairs, which cannot yet be said for Mr. Mandelson," O’Leary said. "He has been a consistent supporter of a peaceful and democratic resolution of the conflict, and has played a positive role in encouraging republicans and others to abandon violence.
"He is entirely correct, and is not out of date, when he observes that the UK government is not implementing the Patten report in full — though Mr. Mandelson still says otherwise." —- Ray O’Hanlon in New York contributed to the report.