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Row grows over RUC commission

February 15, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST – Details of a row between the British and Irish governments over the make-up of the commission to reform the RUC have been revealed in an embarrassing leak from the Northern Ireland Office.

The British government finally published new laws last week for the early release of loyalist and republican prisoners. Meanwhile, concerns over the potential for violence during the marching season grow apace.

The confidential document was given to Ulster Unionist MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, and is the latest in a long line of leaks to leading Unionists, clearly intended to damage British Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam and the peace process.

Part of the document is a note of conversations between Mowlam and leading Sinn Fein members Martin McGuinness and Rita O’Hare on their concerns about the Police Commission.

It reveals that Mowlam apologized to the taoiseach and the White House about the way the announcement was made and reassured an “angry and emotional” O’Hare that McGuinness was not “ballistic” about the commission’s make-up.

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It also shows a last-minute round of contacts resulted in the name of Professor Gerald Lynch, head of New York’s John Jay College, being added to the list at Dublin’s request. Mowlam has promised improved consultation in the future.

Donaldson said he was concerned that Mowlam was in contact with “such a person as Rita O’Hare,” who the British authorities had tried to extradite to Northern Ireland during the 1970s.

Sinn Fein recently announced that O’Hare is to replace Mairead Keane in the party’s Washington office, although she has yet to finalize her visa arrangements. She is still on the RUC’s wanted list, more than 20 years since she left Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that one of the seven members of the commission is a leading Unionist strategist. Barrister Peter Smith is a queen’s counsel and former honorary secretary of the Ulster Unionist Party.

The Stormont Agreement stipulates that the commission should be broadly representative. Mowlam said it had two members representing the community, Maurice Hayes and Peter Smith.

Hayes, a Catholic, is a retired senior civil servant who is a board member and writes regularly for the Sunday Independent, in whose pages he has been a frequent critic of the SDLP and its leader, John Hume.

Smith is a former member of the Ulster Unionist officer board and of a working group set up to oppose the Anglo Irish Agreement. He is also a friend of its leader, David Trimble, and has been an election candidate.

Nationalists are saying that Hayes and Smith are not a balanced choice, and their concerns are heightened by the lack of any nominee with a domestic or international human rights background.

Dublin’s nominees were all initially turned down by the British government as were suggestions put forward by the main human rights body in the North, the Committee on the Administration of Justice.

The eight people who will make up the commission are, first, its chairman, the former governor of Hong Kong and chairman of the British Conservative Party, Chris Patten, who joins Hayes, Lynch and Smith. The remaining four are Sir John Smith (former deputy metropolitan police commissioner and member of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary); Kathleen O’Toole, head of the Massachusetts Public Safety Department; Lucy Woods, head of British Telecom in Northern Ireland, and Professor Clifford Sheering, a Canadian criminologist.

Also last week, former prisoners, loyalist and republican, must be eligible to join a new police service in the North, according to Sinn Fein. Spokesman Alex Maskey said for many people the Stormont Agreement will have failed if the issue of police reform is not addressed.

The RUC, which he described as a Unionist militia, must go, he said. Nationalists would never join it and what was needed is a new service acceptable to both sections of the community.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Police Federation, Les Rodgers, said his members were appalled and dismayed at parts of the Stormont Agreement, including proposed reform of the RUC and the early release of prisoners.

March fears

The threat to the peace process from contentious Orange parades continues with June 19’s march in north Belfast fast approaching. It follows violence in Portadown when junior Orangemen tried to march up the Garvaghy Road.

The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, said after a 30-minute meeting with the British prime minister, Tony Blair, that he believed the violence was organized by republicans, but Sinn Fein’s leader, Gerry Adams, denied Trimble’s claims.

Local people reacted angrily to claims that blast bombs were thrown, saying firecrackers made the loud bangs heard at the scene. Press reports of the violence were misleading and inaccurate, as a result of RUC misinformation, they said.

They also denied claims that a crowd of 300 had attacked the police over a six-hour period, that they had attacked junior Orangemen and that the violence had been orchestrated.

Independent witnesses, including a U.S. camerawoman whose film was seized by the police, corroborated local people’s testimony that plastic bullets were fired too high, that there had been taunting by loyalists and that the RUC had baton-charged without justification.

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