2 September 1999 Edition
Policing checklist launched ahead of Patten Report
Community leaders and human rights activists have launched a checklist of key principles to assist the public in evaluating the proposals for future policing to be disclosed in the forthcoming report by the Patten Commission. The launch was held on Tuesday, 31 August, at the Falls Community Council in Belfast and in attendance were Clara Reilly of the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets, Mark Thompson of Relatives For Justice, and Toni Carragher of the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee.
Among those sponsoring the awareness exercise are leading human rights activists and community workers, and the checklist will now be circulated throughout the nationalist community. Members of the public will be encouraged to use the checklist as an aid in evaluating the contents of the Patten Commission's report. It is hoped that the exercise will stimulate mature reflection on the long awaited Patten Commission report and clarify the key principles which must underpin the `new beginning in policing' envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.
The community activists are asking questions uin advance of the Patten report in light of the Good Friday Agreement's obliging of the Patten Commission to produce proposals for that new beginning in policing.
They have outlinede ten ways in which people can evaluate the Patten Commission's proposals for a new police service.
1. Will there be 43 per cent nationalists at all ranks and within all departments of the new service?
2. Will members of the new service be banned from the Loyal Orders and similar secret organisations bound by oaths?
3. Will communities have a real say in how their areas are policed? Will there be structures of accountability to (i) the public, (ii) the Irish Government?
4. Will there be new faces in the top jobs of the new police service? Will Ronnie Flanagan have gone?
5. Will the uniform, symbols and name of the new service reflect all cultures in society?
6. Will the Stalker/Sampson /Stevens reports on collusion and shoot-to-kill finally be published? Will there be a fully independent investigation into all previous police violations of human rights?
7. Will members of the public have access to information about them which were on RUC files?
8.Will former RUC members applying to join the new policing service be screened to ensure that they have not been involved in human rights abuses?
9. Will members of the new service be dismissed if they ill-treat any section of the community?
10. Will the new service be routinely unarmed and will plastic bullets be banned?
These pointers are important to nationalists given that numerous reports into the RUC in the past have never delivered meaningful change.
Patten leaks outrage unionists
``One of the most contentious issues which could wreck the Assembly in Northern Ireland concerned the future of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and in particular its Special Branch''.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the above quote was made in the past week by any unionist politician reacting to reports in the Belfast Telegraph on Wednesday 25 August outlining the possible changes to the RUC that the Patten Commission on RUC reform might propose.
You would, though, be wrong. The quote, in fact, comes from a New Statesman article written in July 1973, when the RUC was under scrutiny by human rights activists and the 26-County government over, in particular, its role in the torture of detainees during the initial arrests when internment was introduced in 1971.
The treatment of the so-called hooded men or guinea pigs, used to develop torture techniques, resulted in the British government facing charges at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Now history is repeating itself.
Last Wednesday, when the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the Patten Commission's report was set to recommend a ``dramatic overhaul of the RUC'', unionism reacted as one.
John Taylor, deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, warned: ``The plans are dynamite and could be the final blow for the Belfast Agreement.'' He was making the political point that the RUC is a unionist police force for a unionist people in a unionist state.
Under threat of political chaos, which is the alternative to making the Agreement work, Taylor is saying to the British government ``don't mess with the RUC''.
The unionist spin on the Patten report is also about hyping up opposition to change. By declaring that the reported changes amount to the disbandment of the RUC, it is telling Patten to back off.
According to the leaks, Patten's main proposals for reform of the RUC are that:
The force be renamed and called the Police Service for Northern Ireland
Its oath, uniform, and badge be changed.
The full-time RUC reserve be disbanded.
Politicians sit on any new police board, including Sinn Fein representatives.
The Union flag and portraits of the British Queen be removed from police stations.
These are cosmetic changes, but what they amount to in the unionist psyche is the threat of change and the unionist reacrtion exposes their inability to deal with nationalists or move towards any understanding.
At core, that is the reason why the unionists will not implement the Agreement at all, they cannot stomach change.
In some respects, that is the tragedy of the past 30 years. Had unionism the confidence or the courage to change, to accept nationalists as equals, we could have had a 30-year political process with the potential to bring meaningful change instead of conflict.
It is a pity that John Taylor is only offering us more of the same now.
Rally against Patten
A unionist rally in opposition to the Patten report on policing has been organised for Saturday, 18 September. The demonstration, which will take place at Belfast's City Hall, has been organised by the Unionist Information Service and the Friends of the Union.
Former members of the RUC have been invited to address the rally in order to voice their opposition to the as yet unpublished Patten Report. As yet, no party leaders have been invited to speak.
David Burnside, a spokesperson for Friends of the Union who will chair the rally, has said that there is considerable unionist opposition to Patten. He said: ``If the price of this process is the destruction of the RUC, then that is intolerable.''