Category: Archive

Patten Pending

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — After demanding significant changes in the British government’s Police Bill now before parliament, nationalists this week expressed confidence that their concerns will be heeded.

There has been a sustained campaign over the last few weeks by the SDLP, Sinn Fein, the Irish government and the Catholic hierarchy in favor of the full implementation of the recommendations of the Patten Commission report on policing. Though the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Mandelson has repeatedly reaffirmed his government’s commitment to the Patten reforms, nationalists have been drawing attention to what they see as the Northern Ireland Office’s "emasculation" of the Patten report.

The Patten recommendations included restrictions on the role of the secretary of state, but the bill actually expands his power by allowing him to decide, among other things, on the force’s name and badge and block investigations recommended by the Policing Board.

Patten asked for a more powerful Policing Board, but the bill restricts its power. Likewise, instead of enhancing the powers of the police Ombudsman, the bill as drafted diminishes the existing powers.

The oath taken by officers to protect human rights as recommended by Patten is restricted in the bill only to members of the new force and does not apply to RUC officers.

Follow us on social media

Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo

The Oversight Commissioner is not in the bill but an RUC foundation is.

The 10-year period of recruitment to bring the number of Catholics up to par with Protestants was reduced to three.

A furious behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign by Irish government representatives, the SDLP and Sinn Fein has resulted in promises from Mandelson that he would try to incorporate their concerns into the legislation. A Labor backbench rebellion over the issue has also focused the government’s attention.

Westminster sources say the British prime minister, Tony Blair, has been taken aback by the range of groups and depth of anger expressed in Ireland at the proposed legislation.

Blame for the crisis is being laid by nationalists not at Blair, but at a coterie of civil servants and RUC bureaucrats and senior officers who, they argue, effectively ambushed the Patten recommendations.

One republican source said: "This is an absolutely central issue for us. We cannot move away from Patten."

Sinn Féin says the bill, in its present form, has watered down the 175 reforms recommended by EU Commissioner Chris Patten last year. The party said "urgent moves" were required in particular on the statutory authority of the newly appointed oversight commissioner, former U.S. DEA chief Tom Constantine.

The Patten Report had stipulated that the commissioner would be charged with monitoring how Patten’s reform proposals are implemented, not to monitor implementation of the proposed British legislation.

"The commissioner," said the SDLP’s Alex Attwood, "can only fulfill his purpose in the context of a radical revision of the Police Bill." Otherwise, he added, it would "put a straitjacket on the potential of the commissioner to bring about a new beginning."

Although the IRA has made no statement regarding its offer of May 6 to open some arms dumps, it is believed that the deal worked out between republicans and the British government at Hillsborough Castle that week is at risk unless Patten is implemented in full.

"We are not laying down any ultimatum," a source said. "The IRA has made it clear there is no threat to the peace process from its direction. But it struck a deal with the British government at Hillsborough and both sides must stick to it or it falls."

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese