By Ray O’Hanlon
President Clinton signed into law Monday the federal budget bill for fiscal 2000 that includes a provision restricting joint programs between the FBI and Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The provision is contained in the State Department Authorization Bill, which itself forms part of the overall budget bill.
"This is historic legislation as far as policing in Northern Ireland is concerned. All members of the Congress deserve the gratitude of Irish Americans," Fr. Sean McManus, president of the Washington D.C.-based Irish National Caucus, said in response to the signing of the measure which had previously passed the House of Representatives and had been left untouched by the Senate.
The RUC component in the authorization bill, proposed by New Jersey GOP rep. Chris Smith, prohibits funding for the exchange programs that allowed RUC officers to receive specialized training at FBI headquarters in 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."
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McManus praised both Smith and New York Rep. Ben Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, for their work in formulating the legislation and pushing it through the joint House/Senate conference report stage for inclusion in the final budget bill.
Gilman, who presided over hearings on the RUC earlier this year, said that the vetting component in the bill pointed up one of the major flaws in the Patten Commission report on the RUC.
Gilman, who sees Patten as "a good first step," said he hoped the bill would serve as a model for even further changes in Northern Ireland that would help build support for a new police service.
Meanwhile, the rights group Human Rights Watch has issued its verdict on the Patten report.
While praising much of the report, the New York-based group said that it did not go far enough.
"The Patten Report is a solid beginning and it should be put into practice. But it ignores a number of critical human rights benchmarks that are essential to building confidence in any peacetime police service in Northern Ireland," said spokeswoman Julia Hall.
Human Rights Watch expressed particular concern that the report did not recommend a vetting mechanism to "weed out" officers currently serving in the RUC who have past records of human rights violations.