Category: Archive

SDLP feeling pressure to back Police Board

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — Despite demands from the British government and from many Irish and British newspaper opinion columns for the SDLP to nominate representatives to the new Police Board, the party shows no signs of buckling under.

Sinn Fein sources also say that their understanding is that the SDLP is standing firm and demanding the full implementation of the Patten Report on policing before agreeing to encourage nationalist recruitment to the new force.

The British government’s "Implementation Plan" is due for publication within the next 10 days and this will be closely watched to see if, for example, it gives a deadline for the phasing out of the old full-time RUC Reserve.

Policing remains one of the thorniest issues in the implementation of the 1998 Good Friday agreement. Nationalists believe the British government’s policing legislation has watered down many important parts of the Patten Report’s recommendations on reforming the RUC.

The SDLP’s decision is partly due to the British government’s failure to address its concerns about the structures and operations of the proposed new police force, party sources said.

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The party hopes in the next few weeks British Prime Minister Tony Blair will move to far greater intervention. The British Northern secretary, Peter Mandelson, effectively lost the confidence of the SDLP leadership long ago, the sources said.

Adding to the difficulties over policing reform, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern also said it is still too soon to recommend nationalists should join the force and take part in the Police Board. Sinn Fein has already said it will not take up its two places on the Board.

Chris Patten, the former Hong Kong governor who oversaw the independent policing report, last week twice asked the SDLP to support nationalist recruitment to the new force.

Maurice Hayes, the only Northern Catholic on the Patten Commission and one who is respected by some within the SDLP, also said nationalists should play their part in the new institutions.

While acknowledging that the British government had made changes to the Patten recommendations, Hayes said nationalists have to decide whether they want "90 percent of something or 100 percent of nothing."

According to several informed sources, the number of nationalist applications for the nine independent posts on the board were low — indicating reluctance in the Catholic community to accept the new police service.

SDLP deputy leader and Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon this week laid down areas of nationalist concern about policing in Northern Ireland:

€ more detail on what the Northern Ireland secretary will do if consensus cannot be achieved over the new police service flags and emblems and a guarantee that any symbols will be neutral;

€ a time frame for when the RUC Special Branch will be subsumed into the police service, a date for the ending of the RUC full-time reserve and a timetable for the increase of the part-time reserve;

€ an indication of when the British government will implement the Patten Commission’s recommendation for the closure of all interrogation centers, including Gough Barracks in Armagh.

€ more information on the arrangements for the secondment of members of the Garda Siochana into the new Police Service of Northern Ireland, covering their role, rank and the amount of officers involved;

€ inquiries into the murders of solicitor Pat Finucane and Portadown Catholic Robert Hamill, despite restrictions on the ability of the Policing Board to carry out retroactive inquiries into RUC activities.

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