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SDLP slams British over police tactics

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — The SDLP says it will not be browbeaten into reducing its aspirations on policing by British government threats to shelve all proposed reforms unless the party makes nominations to the proposed Police Board.

SDLP sources say they have been the target of repeated British attempts to misrepresent their position and manipulate them into accepting the current legislation on police reform.

"Those kind of threats do not go down very well and actually have a counter-productive effect," the source said.

"It’s been tried in the past and the SDLP has held firm without wavering. Anyone hoping to bounce us into accepting less than the full and fair implementation of the Patten Report is acting in an ill-considered way."

There is some amusement in SDLP ranks that the British government would make such a blatant attempt to strong-arm the party, but a greater determination not to become distracted by it and lose sight of the ultimate aim of a new beginning to policing.

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Alex Attwood, the party’s spokesman on policing, said: "Suspension, either of political or policing reforms, is an ill-judged policy. We must keep our eye on the prize, which is a realizable one.

"We have been spending a lot of time in intensive talks trying to resolve the outstanding issues on policing. . . . We have yet to see the fruition of these efforts but we will keep at it.

"Suspensions and further delays, however, do not serve the process well. If there is an attitude lurking anywhere that suspension, whether it be of the political institutions or policing change, is an option, then people should be disabused."

Meanwhile, in the Ulster Unionist Party, a battle is also looming over who will replace Ken Maginnis as the party candidate in the upcoming British general election, after he said he would not run again this year.

The pro-Good Friday agreement candidate in the selection meeting, due on Jan. 29, will be James Cooper — a virtual unknown outside the constituency. The anti-agreement candidate will be Arlene Foster, the forceful younger would-be MP.

Maginnis, 62, confirmed he would not be standing on Friday. A former major in the Ulster Defense Regiment, Maginnis was a pro-agreement MP and Trimble loyalist. He has had a high profile due to his role as UUP security spokesman and has held the Fermanagh/South Tyrone seat for 18 years.

Maginnis’ seat was previously held by Bobby Sands, the first of 10 IRA prisoners who died on hunger strike in the fight for PoW status in 1981. The constituency has a slight nationalist majority, but the split between the SDLP and Sinn Fein has allowed a unionist candidate in. This year, however, the DUP are likely to challenge the UUP.

Sinn Fein already has a candidate in Michelle Gildernew. The SDLP has yet to select its challenger, but it could be Tommy Gallagher, the low-profile assemblyman from Fermanagh.

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