The difficult struggle to reform the North’s police force has gone to the floor of the House of Commons, which will see the first of a series of crucial debates on that most contentious of issues. Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Mandelson, unionists, nationalists, Labor Party and Conservative Party MPs are all involved in a strenuous tug of war, while behind the scenes the bureaucrats of the Northern Ireland Office are obviously contributing their muscle in a devious attempt to frustrate much-needed reform.
This is not the way it was supposed to have been done. Offering concessions to one side then taking them back in order to placate the other is simply a recipe for lurching from one crisis to the next. It is bad government. It is also cowardly government. One might have expected it from John Major when he was clinging to power in the mid-1990s, dependent on a handful of unionist votes in Westminster. But not from a Labor government that, with 177 seats more than the opposition, has one of the largest majorities in the history of the House of Commons.
Clearly, it is not a lack of strength on the part of Tony Blair’s government that is behind the current prevaricating.
On May 5, just before the IRA’s groundbreaking announcement that it was prepared to open its arms dumps to outside inspection before putting the weapons beyond use, the British government committed itself to implementing in full the Patten Commission report’s recommendations on the reform of policing in the North. Without such a commitment, it is doubtful if any such progress could ever have been made.
This week Mandelson was quoted as saying: "I’m absolutely determined and the entire British government is determined to implement Patten."
It is now time for Mandelson and the government for whom he acts to make good those words.
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