Category: Archive

Editorial Patten pressure

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

It is a sign of serious trouble ahead for the British government’s attempts to implement the Patten Report on policing reforms that a former member of the Patten Commission, Professor Clifford Shearing, has launched what can only be termed a devastating attack on the police bill now going through Westminster. His accusations, contained in an article in the Guardian newspaper, that the bill "guts" the report and "dismantles" its very foundations, might be dismissed if they came from some radical republican fringe activist.

But Shearing, if his spell on the Patten Commission did not qualify him enough, heads the criminology center at Toronto University. He cannot be accused of pursuing a Sinn Fein political agenda, one goal of which has been to demonize the RUC and render it ineffective.

Shearing’s critique is based on his desire to see the vision contained in the Good Friday agreement realized. And Patten was an essential part of that vision.

Unfortunately, the British response to Shearing has been a testy one. Witness the words of Peter Mandelson, the Northern Ireland secretary of state, who told a radio interviewer this week: "Well, I think that everyone has to live in the real world, and that includes former members of the Patten Commission. And in the real world we saw at the weekend a dissident republican attempt to kill police officers at Derrylin, which, fortunately, was foiled. "

Of course, the secretary is correct to point to real the threats that still exist in the rejectionist wings of republicanism and loyalism. But that is only part of the reality — a small part. There is another, more prevalent reality out there, and that consists of the nationalist concern over the course the police bill has taken away from the letter and spirit of Patten.

It is vital that it is this reality that will help shape the Patten bill and not the reality of a few unrepresentative paramilitary diehards. Should their reality be allowed to dictate the pace of change, then the Good Friday agreement is truly doomed.

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Mandelson would do well to remember what happened when the diehards were allowed to shape the reality of Northern Ireland in 1969, ’74, and in the dreadful decades that followed. They made reform and genuine change all but impossible. They must not be permitted to do so again.

In this context, the words of Shearing bear pondering.

He wrote that the commission "developed a plan for renewing policing. It expressed this in its core premise: ‘Policing should be a collective responsibility: a partnership for community safety.’ Policing, the report stated, ‘is a matter for the whole community, not something that the community leaves to the police to do.’ This principle unified its report."

A bill that does not create a policing service with that community partnership is a recipe for defeat in Northern Ireland. But, fortunately, there is still time. The bill has yet to reach its final form. We hope as it does so, Shearing’s words will be borne in mind by those with the responsibility for framing its provisions.

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