Category: Archive

New U.S. budget leaves North police out in cold

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella-Garraty

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Included in the now-agreed-upon $1.8 trillion U.S. fiscal 2000 budget passed by the House and Senate is a new restriction on exchange programs between the FBI and the Northern Ireland police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

President Clinton is due to sign the bill next week after the Thanksgiving holiday.

The author of the bill, Congressman Chris Smith, the New Jersey Republican, said the restrictions were put in place because of "the RUC’s dreadful human rights record."

"For the first time, the full Congress is taking specific action to spotlight, isolate and mitigate the human rights abuses committed by the RUC," Smith said.

As chairman of the House International Operations and Human Rights subcommittee, Smith has been critical of the RUC. It was before this committee that slain human rights solicitor Rosemary Nelson testified in a 1998.

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"We are driven by a genuine concern for the safety for defense attorneys and others mistreated by the RUC," said the congressman, noting that he hoped the British government would react to the specific concerns even as efforts are made to reform the RUC.

The Smith amendment prohibits funding for the exchange programs that allowed Northern Irish police officers to receive specialized training at FBI headquarters at Quantico, Va.

The amendment will remain in force until the White House certifies that participants "do not include RUC members who have committed or condoned violations of internationally recognized human rights, including any role in the murder of Patrick Finucane or Rosemary Nelson."

Rep. Smith designed the legislation in response to his perceived inadequacies in the Patten Commission’s assessment of the RUC. An international fact-finding report developed by the commission, and instigated by the Good Friday accord, recommended earlier this year sweeping reforms of the RUC designed to make it more acceptable to Northern Ireland’s Catholics. Only eight percent of the 13,000-member force is Catholic.

Smith believes that officers allegedly involved in the harassment and perhaps even murder of both Nelson last March and another well-known defense attorney, Finucane, 10 years ago, are still on the force and have not been disciplined or charged for their possible involvement.

A review of recommendations offered by the Patten Commission was due to be completed by the end of November. Government officials now say completion of the review process may be delayed until January.

The budget provision on the RUC was immediately welcomed by Fr. Sean McManus of the Washington, D.C.-based Irish National Caucus.

"This is historic legislation as far as policing in Northern Ireland is concerned. All members of the Congress deserve the gratitude of Irish Americans," McManus said.

During his U.S. visit last week, Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty said that the RUC was unacceptable to nationalists and that anything short of full implementation of the Patten Commission report would be "useless."

Buckingham Palace, meanwhile, was taking a decidedly different stance on the RUC. On Tuesday, Queen Elizabeth bestowed the United Kingdom’s highest civilian honor on the force.

In a move that many observers consider an attempt to brighten the currently unsettled atmosphere for hard-core Ulster unionists, the queen awarded the George Cross to all members of the RUC.

"For the past 30 years the Royal Ulster Constabulary has been both the bulwark against, and the main target of, a sustained and brutal terrorist campaign," the royal citation read.

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