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8 June 2000 Edition

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Flawed and unacceptable Policing Bill

BY FERN LANE

The Policing (Northern Ireland) Bill received its second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday, 6 July, with only the most minor concessions being made by Peter Mandelson to the concerns of republicans and nationalists. The bill still constitutes what Gerry Adams called the ``emasculation'' of the Patten Report.

Although Mandelson told the House of Commons that he had an ``open mind'' on possible amendments and that the Bill could be further ``fine-tuned'' as it goes through the Committee stage, thus far the only `concessions' on the table are on the retention of the proposal to change the working title of the police service and on the powers of the new Police Board. Whilst he conceded that the Bill had placed too many limitations on the power of the Police Board - which will replace the Police Authority - to order inquiries, Mandelson nevertheless retained formidable powers controlling the workings of this and other regulatory bodies. Further, serving officers, unlike new recruits, will still not be required to take a new oath as recommended in Patten. They will merely be required to undergo retraining on human rights and to sign up to a new code of ethics.

Mandelson will also have the power to decide on the issue of emblems, and the name of the RUC is to be incorporated in the ``title deeds'' of the proposed act - although during Tuesday's lengthy debate, no one was able to define exactly what such a title deed actually is. A Unionist and Conservative amendment, retaining the name and emblems of the RUC intact, was defeated.

Republicans have made clear that Patten represents only a starting point for a transformation of policing in the Six Counties, the bare minimum level of change required to begin to create a police service acceptable to the nationalist population. It does not, and should not, represent some far-distant ideal or vague, unachievable aspiration which can be constantly blocked by unionist opposition.

Mandelson's dilution of Patten could have profound implications for the entire peace process. It could also have a serious impact on what has hitherto been solid support for the Agreement by nationalists in the Six Counties.

At a press conference in Westminster on Tuesday, Sinn Fein's Pat Doherty, who was with fellow Assembly member Gerry Kelly as part of a party delegation lobbying on the bill, said that policing is a ``touchstone issue for nationalist and republican people. It is very, very serious. We need a new policing service; we were promised that in the Good Friday Agreement and it must be delivered. There isn't a single nationalist out there who hasn't had a horror story with the RUC.''

On Wednesday, 7 June, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said: ``The British Secretary of State is reported today as claiming that his Police Bill is ``all about balance and negotiation''. The Police Bill should have been about implementing the Patten report.

``The reality is that in its current draft the Police Bill requires at least 75 changes to bring it into line with the 175 recommendations that came from the Patten Commission. Many of these are on fundamental issues.

``After yesterday's second reading of the Bill, many of these issues remain unresolved. Instead, Mr. Mandelson indicated that he was prepared to consider amendments to his Bill. He has also said that it remains his preferred option that a legal description in the Bill would incorporate the RUC title. This is not good enough.

``The Mandelson Policing Bill is flawed in significant and unacceptable ways. Sinn Féin has identified all of this in detail and we have engaged both the British and Irish governments in an intense and focused way for some time now.

``Other political parties, as well as a range of religious, human rights and justice groups, have also made representation. In fact there has been an unprecedented response to the emasculation of the Patten Report. Unionist rejection of the Bill should not change this. Neither should any nationalist party have voted for the Bill.''

 

A New Policing Service



On Friday, 5 May, Sinn Féin released its detailed assessment and criticism of the Blair/Mandelson Policing Bill and set out the necessary areas of change if the Bill is to reflect the Patten report. The material released includes a letter from Party President Gerry Adams, which is being sent to TDs, MPs, MEPs, US Congress Members and Senators, as well as the South African government and other governments and politicians around the world. The following is the text of the letter:

A Chara,

Policing, like democratic structures of government, justice and equality, lies at the heart of conflict resolution in Ireland.

The RUC is not a police service. Its history, behaviour, make-up and ethos make it unacceptable to nationalists and republicans. Reform is not an option. The Good Friday Agreement is clear. What is required is a `new beginning to policing' which is `capable of attracting and sustaining' support from all sections of our people.

The nationalist people like all sections of our people are law-abiding, decent people who want a policing service they can trust and respect.

Nationalists and republicans will judge the potential of this peace process to remove the causes of conflict by the way it tackles issues like policing. The report of the Patten Commission into policing contained over 170 recommendations.

The Joint Letter issued by the two governments on 5 May committed the British government to `implement the Patten report'. In what became known as the Hillsborough initiative, the IRA leadership responded positively to this and other commitments in the Joint Statement by the two governments and the letter they sent to party leaders.

The Policing Bill produced 11 days later by the British government bears no resemblance to Patten. The Patten report is emasculated by this legislation.

Consequently, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Irish government, the Catholic Church, and a host of community groups in nationalist areas have rejected the legislation.

We need therefore to persuade the British government to honour its commitments under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and the deal that was hammered out at Hillsborough on 5 May.

To achieve that goal we need your help. We need you to lobby and exert pressure on the British government on this matter in whatever way you can.

Specifically, I am sending you a memo that outlines the gaps between the legislation and Patten. These are the issues that must be resolved if the goal of a proper and acceptable policing service is to be achieved.

The recently published Policing Bill does not advance this objective and there is no way that I, or Sinn Féin, could recommend to nationalists and republicans that they should consider joining or supporting the police force as described in that legislation.

Thank you for whatever help and assistance you can give on this matter.

Is mise le meas
Gerry Adams MP


A New Beginning?



Background:


The parties to the Good Friday Agreement two years ago agreed that that it represented; ``a unique opportunity to bring about a new political dispensation which will recognise the full and equal legitimacy and worth of the identities, sense of allegiance and ethos of all sections of the community in Northern Ireland.''

One litmus test, which will determine the credibility of that belief, is policing.

In order to ensure the success of the Agreement, it is crucial that the new police service which is created, affords full and equal legitimacy to all.

Those who signed the Agreement agreed that it is essential that the new police service be:

``professional, effective and efficient, fair and impartial, free from partisan political control; accountable, both under the law for its actions and to the community it serves; representative of the society it polices, and operates within a coherent and co-operative criminal justice system, which conforms with human rights norms''.

With regard to all of these criteria the RUC and the legal system in the North have patently failed.

Throughout its violent history the RUC has been seen, and has seen itself as the armed guardians of the Union; and for most of that time the paramilitary wing of the Unionist government and party.

The RUC has routinely violated, often on a massive scale, the rights of nationalists. It has never been held to effective account for these actions either by the law or any democratic mechanism. It has always been and remains completely unrepresentative of the community as a whole and both it, and the criminal justice system within which it operates, have been found to have violated the most basic international human rights standards.

The Good Friday Agreement established a Commission to bring forward proposals for a new beginning to policing. This was itself an indictment of the RUC and previous arrangements for policing. An independent mechanism was needed to provide assurances that we could have a new beginning for policing and that the mistakes of the past would not be repeated.

The Patten Commission report did not go far enough for republicans. Its failure to recommend a ban on the use of plastic bullets, the immediate establishment of an unarmed police service, the immediate scrapping of emergency legislation and banning members of the RUC guilty of human rights abuse from membership of a new service, were missed opportunities to provide the nationalist community with tangible assurances that the Good Friday Agreement promise of a new beginning to policing would be realised.

Other elements of Patten were positive and more hopeful and Sinn Féin welcomed this.

Policing Bill:


While other political parties chose to immediately endorse the Patten report Sinn Féin took the view that we wanted to see the legislation and in particular the Parliamentary Act, before coming to a judgement on the policing issue.

In their Joint Letter on May 5th to the political leaders the two governments committed themselves to implementing the Patten Report. In what became known as the Hillsborough initiative the IRA leadership responded positively to this and other commitments in the Joint Statement by the two governments and the letter they sent to party leaders.

On May 16th the British government published the Policing Bill to a resounding chorus of criticism from nationalists, republicans and others.

It is clear that the fight-back against the Patten recommendations from within the securocrats, from the NIO, and from the RUC insiders has succeeded in removing the substance of Patten from the legislation.

Under the Bill the British Secretary of State, Peter Mandelson, will become the sole arbiter of change on a number of crucial areas. This runs contrary to the Good Friday Agreement and to Patten's proposals to depoliticise the policing issue.

The Policing Bill clearly dilutes many of the important recommendations of the Patten report, including those on key issues such as the name, symbols and structures of the new policing service, human rights protection provisions and accountability mechanisms.

Patten recommended that the new policing service should have a new title and that its symbols and emblems should have no association with either the British or Irish state.

The unionist demand for the retention of the name, symbols and emblems are an attempt to reshape the new policing service in the form of the old. Rather than deal with these key issues in the way recommended by Patten the legislation leaves the power to decide these crucial matters with Peter Mandelson and opens the way for further dilution.

Tens of thousands of nationalists have suffered human rights abuses at the hands of the RUC. Many have had family members killed directly by the RUC or indirectly through collusion with loyalist death squads.

The exemption for present members of the RUC from any requirement to take the new human rights oath if they take up their option for membership of the new policing service is also of major concern.

Other glaring failures of the legislation to reflect key recommendations of Patten include:

The recommendations on the name, badge, flag and accountability all depart from Patten.

The Policing Board is seriously restricted in its powers.

The Ombudsman is seriously restricted in his/her powers.

The power of the District Policing Partnerships are restricted and there is no mention of four sub-groups for Belfast

The oath is only taken on appointment by new recruits.

The code of ethics is left solely in the hands of the police themselves.

There is no assurance that there will be an independent recruitment agency.

The Oversight Commissioner is not in the new legislation but an RUC foundation is.

There is no assurance that the Patten recommendations on plastic bullets, the Special Branch, community representation and new policing practices will be carried through.

The definition of policing with the community stands the aim of Patten on its head.

Appointments to the Policing Board and DPPs must be open to all.

Proposed Changes to Bill:


The issue of policing is a touchstone issue for nationalists and republicans.

For republicans to even consider a Six-County policing service is a huge step which would require a massive shift in our approach.

Many republicans and nationalists are extremely uncomfortable with this concept.

So Sinn Féin can only approach this issue in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, which clearly requires a new beginning to policing and the establishment of a policing service capable of attracting support from the community as a whole.

The changes we are proposing only deal with those aspects of the Patten recommendations that require legislative force. There are other aspects of Patten which do not require legislation and which should be implemented.

Proposed changes:

Amendments required to bring this legislation into line with the recommendations of the Patten Report include the following:

Oath


All members should take the new human rights observance oath, as Patten recommended. This should not be restricted to new recruits only, as is the case with the present legislation.

New human rights observance oath has been altered in legislation to remove the need for equal respect for traditions and beliefs. This should be redressed.

Policing Board


The British Secretary of State should not have the power to halt a Policing Board inquiry on grounds which go beyond Patten.

There should be no obstacles to the Policing Board's ability to initiate inquiries, such as the requirement for a weighted majority.

There should be no time limits placed on the ability of the Policing Board and the Ombudsman to initiate inquiries; no empowerment of the SoS to prevent this.

Restrictions on the powers of the Policing Board in the legislation should be removed. These powers should be as recommended by Patten.

Disqualification from the Policing Board under Schedule 1 paragraph 10 (1)(c) should be deleted.

The new beginning should be reflected in the staff of the Policing Board and the NIO Policing division.

The Policing Board and not the Secretary of State should have the power to decide on the deployment of public order equipment.

The Policing Board should have the power to draw up the education and training strategy, working with the police service and civilian experts, particularly human rights experts.

Powers of the Secretary of State to remove people from the Policing Board under Schedule 1 paragraph 9(1)(c) should be deleted.

References to `has been convicted' with regard to both the Policing Board, Schedule 1, paragraph 9(1)(a) and the DPPs, Schedule 3, paragraph 7(a) should read `is convicted' (in line with the legislation on implementation bodies).

The first Chairperson of the Policing Board should be appointed with the agreement of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, not merely following consultation with them.

The Policing Board should be obliged in law to meet in public.

District Policing Partnerships


No mention of four sub groups of Belfast District Police Partnership. Peter Mandelson suggested this be left to the Belfast partnership to be decided - this is contrary to Patten.

Exclusion of ex-prisoners from District Policing Partnerships should be removed.

Restrictions on the powers of District Policing Partnerships in the legislation should be removed. These powers should be as recommended by Patten.

References to `has been convicted' with regard to both the Policing Board, Schedule 1, paragraph 9(1)(a) and the DPPs, Schedule 3, paragraph 7(a) should read `is convicted' (in line with the legislation on implementation bodies.)

The District Policing Partnerships should be obliged in law to meet in public.

Recruitment


Clause 41 in relation to the appointment of an independent recruitment agency should read `shall' and not `may'.

The Bill should provide the necessary legal arrangements to allow for lateral entry as recommended by Patten.

The special recruitment arrangements (50/50) should last for a minimum of 10 years rather than requiring to be renewed after 3 years.

Miscellaneous


The formulation in the legislation at Clause 30 (5), with regard to community policing, stands the aim of Patten in this regard on its head. This Clause should be re-written to reflect Patten.

No mention of disbanding the full-time reserve. Peter Mandelson has suggested publicly that this be `subject to the security situation'. This is contrary to Patten.

The Code of Ethics should appear on the face of the Bill.

The Chief Constable should be obliged in law to draw up a register of interests and to provide this information to the Ombudsman. It remains our view that membership of the loyal orders and similar institutions is incompatible with membership of the new policing service.

There should be no reference in legislation to an RUC Foundation. Such a foundation should have no role in future policing.

Name, Badge, flag etc


Secretary of State's power re. name, badge and flag should be removed and the legislation should reflect Patten in these matters.

Patten's recommendation of creating a neutral working environment should be reflected in legislation.

`Police force' and `Body of constables'


All references to police `force' in the Bill should be replaced by reference to a police `service'.

Schedule 6, paragraph 2(1) and (2) form no part of Patten and should be deleted.

Ombudsman


There should be no time limits placed on the ability of the Policing Board and the Ombudsman to initiate inquiries; no empowerment of the SoS to prevent this.

The powers of the Omudsman to investigate police policies and practices needs to be included in legislation. The power at Clause 58 of the Bill should provide a power for the Ombudsman to investigate as well as report.

The powers of the Ombudsman to examine trends in relation to individual officers should be included in legislation.

The Ombudsman should be obliged in law to pass this information to the Policing Board and the Chief Constable and to work with the police to address any issues emerging from the data.

Oversight Commissioner


Oversight Commissioner should be given statutory powers in relation to his or her duties.

Oversight Commissioner should be obliged in law to make public reports on the implementation of the Patten Report.

 

 

Policing Service Crisis - Onus on British



Sinn Féin Assembly member Martin McGuinness MP and colleagues Conor Murphy, Mary Nelis, Dara O'Hagan and Alex Maskey released Sinn Féin's detailed assessment and critique of the Blair/Mandelson Policing Bill on Friday, 2 June.

McGuinness said:

``Sinn Féin, which yesterday lobbied TDs in Leinster House and MPs in the British Parliament, is stepping up its opposition campaign to the Police Bill. In the material we are providing you with this morning, we spell out clearly those areas of the Bill which need amendment (see An Phoblacht, pages 10/11).

``Quite clearly, the onus to end the crisis over this aspect of the Good Friday Agreement lies with the British Prime Minister. He made commitments on this issue. He must now honour those commitments.

``The main focus in the controversy surrounding the Policing legislation has been on the concessions which appear to have been given by the British government to the Ulster Unionist Party.

``This has tended to distract away from, or to disguise, the amount of damage that has been done to the goal of a new policing service by those within the British system who have a much more strategic view than the unionist politicians, and who have been permitted by the British government to emasculate the Patten recommendations.

``I am referring in particular to the RUC insiders, to the securocrats and to the NIO officials who have succeeded, at this stage, in subverting the establishment of a civic policing service. They are obviously intent on preventing democratic accountability or real influence from the community on policing. Sinn Féin has given our detailed assessment of the emasculation of Patten to the British Prime Minister, to the Taoiseach and to the US government.

``But it is the British Prime Minister who holds the key to resolving the controversy around policing.

``The Joint Letter issued by the two governments on 5 May committed the British government to `implement the Patten report'. In what became known as the Hillsborough initiative, the IRA leadership responded positively to this and other commitments in the Joint Statement by the two governments and the letter they sent to party leaders.

``The Policing Bill, produced 11 days later by the British government, bears no resemblance to Patten.

``We therefore need to persuade the British government to honour its commitments under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and the deal that was hammered out at Hillsborough on 5 May.

 

Patten Report `gutted'



Speaking at a Sinn Féin press conference in Dublin which preceded a special briefing for TDs and Senators on Thursday, 1 June, Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin highlighted ``the widespread alarm and anger among nationalists and republicans and among many others concerned with civil liberties at the British Policing Bill.

``Central and essential recommendations of the Patten Report on Policing have been diluted or removed. The media focus has been on the issue of the name and badge of the new police service. It must be stressed that while these issues are very important there are other very fundamental flaws in the Policing Bill. To put it bluntly, the Patten Report has been `gutted'.

``On 6 May, in the wake of the discussions at Hillsborough which led to the re-establishment of the Executive, the British and Irish governments sent an open letter to the party leaders, including the President of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams. In that letter, they stated that the British government would implement the Patten Report. The British government has failed to do so.

``This Policing Bill does not implement Patten.

``Sinn Féin has received an unprecedented response from our members and supporters who are incensed at the way in which long-promised and long-overdue measures to transform policing and rid us of the sectarian legacy of the RUC are being reneged on.

``Policing is a core issue on which the entire future of the peace process depends. That is why we called this press conference and that is why we have organised today's delegation to the Oireachtas to brief TDs and Senators on this very important issue.

``In answer to a Dáil question from me on Tuesday the Taoiseach repeated the Irish government's commitment to the Patten Report'. Again in the Dáil yesterday, the Taoiseach spoke of the need for the full implementation of the Patten Report. This has been echoed by SDLP representatives and by a number of British Labour MPs. It is vital that all sections of political opinion in this State also make clear the unacceptability of anything short of an entirely new beginning for policing in the North of Ireland.''

 

 

MPs and others criticise Police Bill



BY JAYNE FISHER

A Westminster meeting on 5 June expressed the growing concern and anger over the failure of the British government's Policing Bill to implement the Good Friday Agreement's commitment to a new beginning for policing in the north of Ireland. The meeting, organised by the cross party pressure group Friends of Ireland - Friends of the Good Friday Agreement, had been called to coincide with the eve of the second reading of the Bill. The wide-ranging audience, filling the Commons Westminster Hall, encompassed MPs, members of the House of Lords, representatives of Irish community organisations and lobby groups. Speakers and contributions from the floor reflected the seriousness of the issue, which was at the heart of the Agreement.

Norman Godman MP explained why he had signed Kevin McNamara MP's ``reasoned amendment'' which called for the bill to be denied a second reading for failing to provide the new beginning for policing envisaged in the Agreement. He said the bill did not get his support as it stands and would have to be ``radically and comprehensively amended''. LSE professor Brendan O'Leary attacked the ``serious weakening'' of the powers of the police board and condemned the bill as ``drafted by the forces of conservatism for the forces of conservatism''. He said: ``Patten didn't go as far as some of us wanted. Nonetheless, it deserved a fair wind - it is not getting that in the Policing Bill.'' He added: ``Those of us who worked hard on the Commission

feel betrayed by the Bill.''

Kevin McNamara MP said the issue of policing is ``the most important point of all the issues in the Good Friday Agreement''. He cited examples of shoot-to-kill policy, collusion, destruction of evidence by the security services, the case of Robert Hamill and the ``catologue of daily harassment ` as evidence of ``the need for a new beginning''.

Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty told the meeting that the policing issue ``lies at the heart of conflict resolution in Ireland''. The current bill, he said, ``bears no resemblance to Patten'' and should be rejected. He called upon everyone present to exert pressure on the British government to ensure that ``the goal of a proper and acceptable policing service is achieved''.

Both the Alliance Party and the Women's Coalition, who were unable to attend the meeting, sent statements expressing their `reservations' over the Bill. The Women's Coalition said it was ``essential to remain true to the spirit and letter of Patten''.

From the Chair, John McDonnell MP told the meeting that the Friends would be campaigning on this issue for the duration of the Bill's passage through parliament, which was likely to last until at least the summer recess in July and very likely beyond. He called for all those concerned with implementing the agreement to mobilise in their own organisations and areas to urge the government to urgently think again.

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