20 January 2000 Edition
Police plan lacks substance
The policing proposals announced yesterday by Peter Mandelson failed to deliver on the full implementation plan promised by the British Government for December 1999.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on policing Gerry Kelly explained the concerns of many nationalists and republicans at the lack of substance in the plan: ``We have today received a broad outline of the British Government's intentions. I am concerned that political threats from the UUP and others to collapse the entire Agreement over the Patten proposals are tied up with this.
``At the beginning of the consultation process on the proposals, the British Government promised that a full plan to implement the findings would be produced in December of last year. What we got today, one month late, falls short of that. There is no full and detailed plan for the implementation nor is there draft legislation which will actually spell out in detail the intentions of the British government.''
In a speech which has been criticised for its failure to address the victims of RUC violence, the proposals were condensed into several main points: The introduction of a compulsory oath for new recruits, which would not, however, be extended to existing members of the RUC; human rights training for all members of the conceived force; a Police Board, accountable to and comprised of public representatives; the retention of the infamous Special Branch and CID forces; the RUC to be renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Mandelson also recommended that there would be no change in uniform colour and that a new service badge be introduced in the Autumn of 2001. In a clear gesture towards unionists, he said that ``there is no question whatsoever of ex-terrorists joining the service'' and that the ``process of change will extend over several years''. Operational control of the RUC, he assured the House of Commons, will remain ``firmly in the Chief Constable's hands''. In an unintentionally ironic remark, Mandelson said that ``it is now time for them (nationalists) to support this programme for change''.
While Sinn Féin has not yet given a definitive response to these proposals, Gerry Kelly called on the British Government to introduce draft legislation in order to clarify their position. ``Sinn Féin's position on the RUC is clear,'' he affirmed. ``So is our position on the need to establish a new policing service. Obviously we need to see the legislation before making a definitive response to the proposals on the future of policing. It must be remembered that the final judgement on these proposals will be whether or not young nationalists will want or be able to join the policing service.''
Meanwhile, the Relatives for Justice campaign stressed their shock at the decision to put the current Chief Constable of the RUC, Ronnie Flanagan, in charge of implementing the human rights aspect of the proposals. ``Flanagan in charge of human rights is a real case of contradiction in terms and certainly does not augur well for the future'', the organisation's spokesperson, Jim McCabe said.
RUC proposals fall short
By Michael Pierse
The burial of Volunteer Tom Williams this week evoked the memory of a young man whose conviction, integrity and courage has been an inspiration to republicans for almost 60 years. It was also indicative of the slow, arduous pace of change, which is constantly frustrated by the same elements responsible for the execution of Williams 57 years ago.
The organisation that captured Williams on that fateful day in 1942 was once again the focus for much media attention this week. Peter Mandelson's curt proposals on the RUC were accompanied by a speech which purposefully ignored the suffering and bloodshed inflicted by the RUC, while expounding their supposed virtues with a plethora of laudatory remarks. Indeed, the reasons for which the Patten Commission on the RUC was founded did not even feature in Mandelson's speech in the House of Commons. No mention was made of the victims of RUC intimidation, collusion at the highest levels with loyalist forces, interrogation and cold blooded assassination. No mention of the killings of Robert Hamill, Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson and the stark indictment they pose of the RUC's record. No mention either, of any intentions but to leave the questions surrounding these deaths unresolved.
The British prosposals met with a swift reaction from the Relatives for Justice Campaign: ``We are totally appalled at the announcement by Peter Mandelson that the current RUC boss, Ronnie Flanagan, is to have responsibility for overseeing the implementation of human rights within the new policing structures,'' said the organisation's spokesperson Jim McCabe. ``Flanagan in charge of human rights is a real case of contradiction in terms and certainly does not augur well for the future,'' he said.
Sinn Féin is witholding a definitive response on Mandelson's announcements pending the introduction of planned legislation. ``Sinn Féin's position on the RUC is clear. So is our position on the need to establish a new policing service,'' party spokesperson on policing Gerry Kelly stated. ``Obviously, we need to see the legislation before making a definitive response to the proposals on the future of policing. It must be remembered that the final judgement on these proposals will be whether or not young nationalists will want to or be able to join the policing service,'' he said.
The demise of the RUC will not be a victory for republicans at the expense of unionists. The RUC has been the architect of its own destiny and it has been shown to be partial and corrupt
The failure of the proposals to map out the manner and timescale in which they are intended to be imposed was an ominous omission, he believed. ``We have today only received a broad outline of the British Government's intentions. I am concerned that political threats from the UUP and others to collapse the entire Agreement over the Patten proposals are tied up with this,'' said Kelly.
UUP security spokesperson Ken Maginnis was aggrieved that what he termed ``the scum of parochial politics'' (that's Sinn Féin), in particular Tyrone Assembly member Barry McElduff, could be holding two seats on the proposed Policing Board. Mandelson retorted, accusing Maginnis of clandestine support for British policies on the RUC - ``I am therefore surprised that he chooses to say differently in public what he says in private.''
The monotonous unionist demand for decomissioning again reared its ugly head throughout the media this past week. It was not enough that their champions of decommissioning, the LVF, have bloodily reasserted the destabilising threat they pose. Unionists, amongst others, continued unabated to enthuse their fervour for the issue.
That arch-weaver of UUP spin, John Taylor, was predictably at it again: ``If they start decommissioning, then that's great news, and of course, the whole situation would have been transformed, but if they don't, then of course the whole executive will fail.''
Adding to the pessimistic stubborness of this unionist soothsayer were the unhelpful comments from Bertie Ahern. He said that, in the event that decomissioning of weaponry by May 2000 does not happen, ``the entire thing will fall apart... Whatever happens after that...'' Surely this forecasting of total collapse only plays into the hands of those who detract from the process. And Ahern must know this only too well.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams addressed this issue while on a visit to Washington this week. He said that issuing ``deadlines and ultimatums'' was the wrong way of approaching the decommissioning issue and that worldwide experiences had shown this to be the case. He also reiterated the provisions of the Agreement, which have relegated the issue to the de Chastelain Commission, where it should stay, and not as a political football and obstacle to progress.
Martin McGuinness pointed to the real source of unionist frustration. Citing the response from unionists to his appointment as Six-County Minister for Education, he explained that they simply didn't want ``a Catholic or a Fenian about the place''. ``Our message is very clear,'' he said. ``We are now about the place.''
While we digest the bones of the British announcements on the RUC and their likely impact, or lack thereof, it is apt that we should consider the memory of Tom Williams.
He lightly gave his young life in pursuit of freedom and justice. The RUC that he fought remains today a unionist force for a unionist people. Williams, like many other Volunteers before and after, was a respected protector of his people. We look to the day when young nationalists and republicans like him can pledge their allegiance to a policing service founded on the principles of justice, equality and accountability.
The demise of the RUC will not be a victory for republicans at the expense of unionists. The RUC has been the architect of its own destiny and it has been shown to be partial and corrupt. Today, there have been endless eulogies to the RUC, led by Mandelson and the unionists. Do they not understand how unpalatable nationalists and republicans find this behaviour? We can stomach it, however, as long as we get real and lasting change in policing, which must encompass far more than names and symbols.
More than cosmetic changes needed
Last September, First Minister David Trimble threatened to resign if the proposals by the Patten Commission on policing were implemented. Interestingly, this threat has not been repeated over the past weeks as it gradually became clear that Secretary of State Peter Mandelson, despite his fulsome praise of the force, was intent on carrying out most of the recommendations contained in the Commission's report. Although Trimble was reputed to be ``seething with anger'' at the leaks ahead of this Wednesday's statement by Mandelson, he stopped short of restating any intention to resign over the issue. Instead, it was left to Ken Maginnis to huff and puff that implementation ``would undermine'' the peace process.
Maginnis also made the curious claim in the run-up to the announcement that the proposed changes would ``re-politicize'' the police force and ``set policing back 30 years''. Exactly when it was that the RUC was not a political institution Maginnis did not make clear. Nor was it apparent who the former B-Special thought had been in control of policing 30 years ago, if not his party.
Central to the current Unionist argument against change is an attempt to shift the blame for the RUC's failings onto the Catholic population; any problems with policing, they insist, amounts to no more than an erroneous `perception' by Catholics of the RUC as hostile, corrupt and sectarian, as if this `perception' were not supported by very real experience, and because Catholics are `intimidated' out of joining the RUC by republicans rather than because of the intolerable working environment.
But, despite this and despite the highly publicised presentation of a petition to Downing Street, orchestrated by the Police Federation and the Daily Telegraph, demanding the retention of the RUC in its present form, there has in fact been a de facto acknowledgement by the force itself that the game is up and major change can be avoided no longer. Representatives of the force have already begun discussing redundancy terms with the Northern Ireland Office, with hundreds of officers allegedly keen to exploit the generous terms to be offered.
At the core of the Patten Report was a stated desire to depoliticise policing. It acknowledged that the RUC has historically been the effective instrument of unionism and that the role and activities of the RUC have, since its formation, been a central component of the north's political landscape. It accepted that the force is seen as ``our police'' by the unionist population, an assertion amply borne out by the intensity of unionist anger at any proposed change. It concluded that, in general terms, the symbols of the British monarchy and state, which form an integral part of the ethos and identity of the RUC, were undesirable. It recommended that the force should be renamed the Northern Ireland Police Service; that it adopt a new badge and symbols which are ``entirely free from any association with either the British or Irish states'', citing the crest of the Assembly as an example; that ``the Union flag should no longer be flown from police buildings''; and that ``on those occasions on which it is appropriate to fly a flag on police buildings, the flag flown should be free from association with the British or Irish states''.
Although the proposed reduction of police numbers to around 7,500 would be welcome, as would the possibility of greater local control of the force through police partnership boards, the changes to the name, oath and symbols of the RUC, whilst crucial, represent only a cosmetic change to the external appearance of the force, and do little to address the continuous violations of human rights, collusion and overt sectarianism, issues which in all the unionist sound and fury have been ignored. It is for such reasons that Sinn Féin and others have insisted that the slate must be wiped clean and an entirely new police force created in order to avoid the probability that officers who have indulged in horrendous violations will be allowed to continue in the force.
And as ever, the restructuring of the RUC has been hedged around with qualifications, with the Secretary of State declaring that any changes were dependent on a number of other factors, most specifically the ``security situation''. The introduction of all the changes is to be `phased', Mandelsonian for `very slow'.