By Susan Falvella-Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Patten Commission report’s recommendations on the future of policing in Northern Ireland just do not do enough to rid the Royal Ulster Constabulary of renegade police officers, members of the U.S. Congress told the report’s chief author, Chris Patten, last Friday during a hearing on Capitol Hill.
The hearing, held by the House Sub-Committee on International Operations and Human Rights, was also given the name of a Northern Ireland prosecutor who, nine years ago, handled the case of William Stobie, a loyalist paramilitary member who was arrested only in recently in connection with the 1989 murder of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane.
Patten, now the European Union commissioner for foreign relations, testified that while the Patten Commission report’s findings did not conclude the need to abolish the RUC, he concurred with many on Capitol Hill that a future Northern Ireland police force will bear very little resemblance to today’s force.
"We know we will not have a new force overnight," Patten said, "we will have a transformed policing service."
Committee chairman Rep. Chris Smith , a New Jersey Republican, and others on the congressional panel queried the former chairman of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland on whether the proposed recommendations would go far enough in removing the greatest transgressors within the department — the so-called "bad apples."
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Patten said he feared "witch-hunts" within the ranks of the current 13,000 members of the RUC.
Smith responded: "We are all opposed to witch-hunts, but every government force given authority and power must have an internal accounting system that ensures the citizenry are not abused.
"The RUC has been incapable of policing itself in the past. They have to be shown how to weed out those officers who have been behind the beatings and human rights atrocities."
It was one year ago this month that Northern Ireland human rights attorney, Rosemary Nelson, testified before members of the same congressional committee about her personal tanglings with the RUC. Her testimony, which foreshadowed her own murder, focused the attention of U.S. lawmakers on the issue of alleged human rights abuses on the part of members of the RUC.
Michael Finucane, son Pat Finucane, also testified at the hearing. In a dramatic moment, Finucane named the prosecuting lawyer at the Northern Ireland Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions who presided over the dropping of charges nine years ago again Stobie, a man now charged in connection with Pat Finucane’s assassination.
"In 1990, Mr. Stobie was charged with the possession of firearms found in his home. I can say from personal experience that the evidence against him would have convicted any other person and that this was the logical outcome here," Finucane said in a written statement submitted to the committee.
"However in this case, the charges were dropped, because Stobie threatened to expose his role as an RUC agent. The chief prosecutor in the case, Jeffrey Foote QC, is now a judge serving on the County Court bench in Northern Ireland.
"It has also emerged that Mr. Stobie confessed to his role in my father’s murder while in police custody in 1990 and even the very existence of this confession was denied as recently as Aug. 3 this year."
It was the so-called bungling of the firearms possession case that allowed Stobie not to be charged for another nine years in connection with his father’s murder, Finucane alleged.
The chairman of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, Ben Gilman, a New York Republican, was also in attendance at the hearing. He voiced the sense of many in Washington that although the Patten Commission produced a laudable report, the proof would be in the implementation of a document, which, among other things, calls for renaming the RUC to the Northern Ireland Police Service, for members of the force to remove traditional British symbols from its uniform, and for the reduction of the total number of police to almost half the present 13,000 members.
Fr. Sean McManus of the Irish National Caucus said he was impressed by Patten in general but that it was noticeable that Patten "fumbled" under stiff cross-examination by committee members.
"I was very surprised that Mr. Patten gave such a lame excuse to justify keeping on RUC members who have abused human rights. Also, he failed in his attempt to justify Orange Order members being in the RUC," McManus said.
In addition to Patten and Finucane, a number of others testified to the sub-committee. They included representatives of human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Lawyers Committee and the Committee on the Administration of Justice.