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House committee urges full embrace of PattenSept. 13-19, 2000

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

The House of Representatives International Relations Committee has added its weight a House resolution which calls for full implementation of the Patten Commission Report on police reform in Northern Ireland.

The committee, chaired by Rep. Ben Gilman of New York, unanimously endorsed House Resolution 547 late last week, thus paving the way for a full floor vote before the term of the current Congress expires in early October.

"I think the resolution will pass the House by a decent margin. The Department of State has no objection and the president will sign it. Such a combination turns this resolution into a significant statement in foreign policy terms," Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, primary author of the resolution, told the Echo after the committee hearing.

Back in June, Neal wrote to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Mandelson expressing concern that the Patten Report would be watered down during its passage through the British parliament at Westminster. Patten is aimed at radically changing the present situation in which over 90 percent of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is Protestant.

The House resolution, which has been matched by a similar Senate move penned by Sen. Edward Kennedy, warns against any "cherry-picking" of the Patten report. The warning against cherry-picking was actually introduced to the police reform debate by the author of the Patten Report, the former and final British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten.

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Commenting on his committee’s endorsement of the resolution, Gilman said that Patten formed "a core portion" of the Good Friday agreement but that the British government and unionists had failed to show good faith with regard to its full implementation.

Rep. Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut, ranking Democrat on the committee, said that real peace would not be possible in Northern Ireland if the police did not mirror the make-up of the population which they served.

New Jersey Rep. Bob Menendez said that without full implementation of Patten, the peace process would remain lopsided and a full peace would remain elusive.

Rep. Peter King of New York said that the Good Friday agreement was a compromise and that the Patten Report was a compromise.

"The British government is trying to compromise a compromise with the recent Mandelson policing bill. You can’t in good faith compromise a compromise," King said.

Sen. Edward Kennedy of Masachusetts, who is steering his version of the resolution toward the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the Patten recommendations amounted to a sensible agenda for reform.

"It proposed long-overdue changes capable of attracting the allegiance of all. It shouldn’t be watered down under unionist pressure."

The debate over Patten, in both Washington and London, is presently heading for a climax at roughly the same time. Neal said he hoped the House of Representatives would vote on his resolution before the end of September.

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