By Jack Holland
A major step toward “normalization” was taken in Northern Ireland this week with the announcement that its new police force, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, would become official beginning Nov. 4.
Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary of state, John Reid, was expected to make the announcement by late Tuesday or the following day. The new 19-member Policing Boards will also become operative on Nov. 4.
All the major parties in Northern Ireland, except Sinn Fein, have recognized the new force and nominated members for the Policing Board. Sinn Fein maintains that the service, which was born out of the Patten Report on Policing, has drifted too far from many of the original recommendations in the report to be acceptable to nationalists. The party remains unhappy over the issues of plastic bullets, accountability, powers to initiate retrospective investigations, the fate of the Special Branch and full-time reserve.
However, a major boast for the new service came during the summer when the Social Democratic and Labor Party — until this year the major nationalist party in Northern Ireland — swung its support behind it. The SDLP believes that enough has been accomplished to make the new service acceptable to most nationalists.
Recruitment figures show that substantial numbers of nationalists have applied to join the new force.
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But Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams warned that any nationalists doing so would receive the same treatment received by those who tried to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary — “no more and no less.”
In the course of the conflict, just over 300 RUC officers were murdered, mainly at the hands of the IRA and other republican groups, who especially targeted any nationalists in the force.