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Guarded U.S. welcome for Patten police report

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella-Garraty and Ray O’Hanlon

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The report of the Patten Commission into the future of policing in Northern Ireland was given a guarded welcome by U.S. political leaders, but there were also warnings that full implementation of the report’s recommendations must now follow.

After the publication of the report last week there was a flurry of speculation that the task of overseeing implementation of its recommendations could be placed in the hands of one of the Patten Commission’s members, former Massachusetts Public Safety Secretary Kathleen O’Toole.

Such speculation was quickly dampened by O’Toole herself, who said the task would be better accomplished by someone not associated with the commission.

Sources have indicated that the British government favors O’Toole. A British government spokesman told the Echo, however, that while O’Toole’s name had been aired, along with several others, in the context of the post of oversight commissioner, it is too early to speculate on who might get the job.

Another name that has been mentioned has been that of Dublin-born Philadelphia police chief John Timoney.

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In his first reaction to the release of the Patten report, President Clinton said he endorsed the report’s guiding objective, which was to take politics out of policing in Northern Ireland.

"The commission’s recommendations focus on assuring a professional police service in Northern Ireland that meets the highest possible standards and enjoys the support of the community as a whole," Clinton said in a statement before flying to a summit in New Zealand.

As first reactions began to emerge, Northern Ireland Security Minister Adam Ingram arrived in Washington to meet with members of Congress and White House aides.

Following a meeting with members of Congress on Capitol Hill, Ingram told the Echo that the greatest concern expressed to him by representatives was that reforms outlined in the report did not deal with "bad apples" in the RUC.

"I hope people will not have a knee-jerk reaction and will read the report," Ingram said.

Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, a co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs, described the report as a significant step. "But we can’t be oversold," he said.

Neal, together with Rep. Peter King, have been displaying a video in various U.S. cities in recent days which shows RUC officers using considerable force against residents of the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast during an Apprentice Boys march in August.

Rep. Ben Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, described the report as a "good first step," but expressed disappointment that there would be no vetting of current RUC officers for past human rights abuses "and no limit on membership in sectarian associations that are inconsistent with community policing."

Gilman said that his committee would continue to withhold funding for joint training programs involving the FBI and RUC/Northern Ireland Police Service "until the president fully certifies to Congress that the Patten Commission reforms will in fact help to create a new, acceptable and fair police service and that the Patten reform recommendations will be properly and fully implemented by the British government."

The report, meanwhile, was welcomed by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who said that he was "heartened" by it.

Irish-American reaction was mixed. Fr. Sean McManus of the Irish National Caucus said that the report was not as bad as he feared, not as good as he hoped.

"Implementation is everything," McManus said.

Tom Gilligan, national president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, said that the AOH would refrain from getting "excited over yet another British report."

"There will be something in it to offend and inspire; we want deeds not reports," he said.

The Irish Freedom Committee, which opposes the Good Friday accord, described the Patten report as a "hollow sham."

"That there be no British police force on Irish soil is, and shall ever remain, the goal of the Irish Freedom Committee. The notion of reforming a fundamentally unreformable organization is nothing but a cruel and bitter joke," the committee stated.

The New York Times, by contrast, broadly welcomed the report, and while acknowledging "flaws" in it, urged the British government to quickly pass laws necessary to carry out its recommendations.

Debate over the Patten report is expected to continue in the U.S. over the coming weeks. On Friday, Sept. 24, Chris Patten is expected to testify before the House International Relations subcommittee chaired by Rep. Chris Smith.

Also expected to testify are Paul Nelson and Geraldine Finucane, whose respective spouses, Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane, were murdered by loyalists. The investigations of both murders resulted in strong criticism of the RUC as well as allegations of collusion.

Nelson and Finucane are due to appear at a public reception at the Manhattan Club in New York on Saturday, Sept. 25, from 5- 7 p.m.

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