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13 July 2000 Edition

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Sinn Féin report slams Policing Bill

BY MICHAEL PIERSE

As the British Government's Policing Bill moves to Westminster's House of Lords, Sinn Féin Mid-Ulster MP Martin McGuinness today launches a 100-page analysis and comprehensive indictment of the bill's failures to date, titled `Policing: A New Beginning?'. This is the bill that party president Gerry Adams has already slammed as forewarning of a police service which would be wholly unacceptable to the nationalist and republican community.

These comments come as, on the Bill's third reading in the British House of Commons, it was resolved to retain the name of the `Royal Ulster Constabulary' in the title of envisaged new force.

Sinn Féin criticisms of Peter Mandelson's deviation from the Patten Commission's proposals stretch far beyond the hotly debated name-change issue. The party points out that the bill ignores and even subverts the most basic of Patten's recommendations.

Of the 175 Patten proposals, Sinn Féin says that the Policing Bill proposes to implement just 11 in full. There is insufficient information provided to judge whether another 75 of the recommendations are to be implemented, while 89 of the Patten proposals are blatantly subverted, the report states.

``An even worse statistic reveals that of the 175 Patten recommendations, 75 can be described as fundamental and of these we find that 60 have been subverted by the Policing Bill,'' says Martin McGuinness.

He adds that the passing of the legislation to the Lords provides ``an appropriate point at which to take stock of various aspects of the issue. These include the gap between the initial British Government proposals and the Patten recommendations, the progress to date in bridging that gap and the additional progress which is evidently required.

``The departure from Patten is particularly serious in key areas such as the powers of the Police Board and the powers of the Ombudsman; the oath; the powers and structure of local accountability mechanisms; and the legacy of the RUC, including its name, badge and symbols. These are all issues of great concern amongst the broad nationalist and republican community.

``Sinn Féin have been consistent in our call for an end to the use of plastic bullets,'' he stresses. ``An end to repressive legislation and an unarmed policing service are basic requirements for a just and lasting peace. The implementation of the conclusions to a thorough ongoing review of the justice system is something we also want to see.''

McGuinness says that Sinn Féin has made the British and Irish governments fully aware of the details of its concerns, and the party provided the British with more than 70 amendments, prepared for the second reading of the Bill in early June.

``The sheer volume of complaints from Sinn Féin, the Irish Government, the SDLP, the Catholic Bishops and others with regard to the initial legislation simply cannot be ignored,'' says McGuinness. ``The British Government has to move.''

``We have acknowledged that the Patten recommendations are a threshold which could make a new beginning possible,'' says McGuinness. ``A new beginning is clearly indispensable''.

He refers to the warning note sounded by the Independent Commission on Policing when they unveiled their proposals in September 1999. Commission chair Chris Patten, said: ``The recommendations form a package which we firmly believe needs to be implemented comprehensively. We counsel strongly against cherry picking from the report or trying to implement some major elements of it in isolation from others.''

``Amendments to the initial British government legislation in the committee stage and third reading of the Bill have moved it back some way in the direction of Patten,'' Martin McGuinness notes. ``This is welcome but it falls far short of what is required across a wide range of issues, which the Patten Commission recommendations addressed.

In summary, McGuinness believes the proposals still fall far short of creating the necessary conditions for a just and accountable police service: ``The British government still has a substantial distance to go to bring their proposals in line with the Patten threshold. These issues need to be dealt with in a new implementation plan, due to be published in the autumn. More will have to be dealt with in a whole series of codes and regulations. These need to be published and subjected to the same public scrutiny as the legislation itself.

``The amount of detail involved in all of this is substantial and will require a continuous process of examination, assessment and review. Sinn Féin will continue to do that in the coming period. Sinn Féin will continue to lobby, campaign and monitor the developing situation.

``But what is clear, given the British Government's handling of this to date, is that if the objectives of the Good Friday Agreement with regard to policing are to be achieved, and if the British Government's commitments to fully implement Patten are to be honoured, the concerned voices which moved the British Government to the current position will need to maintain their political cohesion and focus.''

McGuinness is also at pains to emphasise that policing is not exclusively a Sinn Féin issue. ``This is a core issue for democrats, which is of direct importance to such critical matters as equality, justice and peace. A new beginning to policing is indispensable to a successful conflict resolution process.''
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