By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Both Unionist parties have joined the SDLP in nominating members to the proposed Police Board, which will be charged with making the new Northern Ireland police force accountable to the public.
Sinn Fein is refusing to nominate to the board, claiming the force is not the “new beginning” promised in the Good Friday agreement. It is urging young nationalists not to consider recruitment.
Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary, John Reid, has welcomed the decision by the Unionists to join the board. He said it lays “the foundation” for a new police service and was a historic move toward making it representative of both communities.
“I am delighted”, he said, “that the first time in our history, since the creation of Northern Ireland, we have a police service supported by political parties from both communities.
“We hear plenty about difficulties in the peace process, but this was a breakthrough which can be genuinely described as historic. The importance of the Police Board cannot be underestimated as it is the bedrock of a new policing service.”
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The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, has nominated four Assembly members to the Board: Lord Kilclooney, Fred Cobain, James Leslie and Ivan Davies (the last takes up Sinn Fein’s place on the board).
Trimble, in his letter confirming the nominations, warned the Ulster Unionist members would “in no way be bound by your [police reform] implementation plan or the Patten Report”.
Trimble claimed the 19-member board would have a permanent unionist majority.
“We consider both the report and the plan gratuitously offensive to all decent, law-abiding people who through the last 30 years steadfastly supported the fight against all forms of terrorism,” he said.
The anti-agreement DUP, headed by the Rev. Ian Paisley, nominated his son, Ian Jr., and East Belfast assemblyman Sammy Wilson. The DUP criticized Ulster Unionists for not holding out longer to win more concessions on policing for unionists.
The SDLP`s nominees were party chairman Alex Attwood, South Down MP Eddie McGrady, and West Tyrone assemblyman Joe Byrne.
Reid said he regretted that Sinn Fein “could not join us at this time.” He appealed to the party to follow the advice of the Irish and American governments, the Catholic church and other parties for them to participate on the Board.
Sinn Fein has said the SDLP is making a mistake in nominating to the board, but the SDLP says that republicans would “find some excuse to join the board and will follow the lead of the SDLP.”
Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said the nationalist electorate is conscious that the British government has betrayed its expectations on policing and that the unionist veto extended to the Police Board.