13 September 2000 Edition
US Representatives reject British police bill
Congressional representatives from both the Democratic and Republican parties voted on Thursday, 7 September in support of a resolution to Congress demanding the full and unequivocal implementation of the Patten Recommendations on policing. Reacting to the vote, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams welcomed the ``ongoing interest and attention of the US Congress in the peace process in Ireland and in particular the crucial issue of policing''.
At a committee meeting in Washington of the House International Relations Committee, Congressman Richie Neal put his resolution, which calls on the British Government to ``fully and faithfully implement the recommendations contained in the Patten Commission on Policing''.
An amendment from Congressman Chris Smith specified the concern that the Policing Bill dilutes or fails to implement many of the Patten Commission's key recommendations regarding accountability and the power of the oversight commissioner and rejecting the recommendations that all police officers take an oath expressing explicit commitment to uphold human rights. The amended resolution was passed without opposition.
Representatives from both sides of the House expressed the view that Patten did not go far enough and that the best option would have been to abolish the RUC and have a truly fresh start.
Congressman Neal told the Committee: ``On 29 June, 2000, I wrote to the British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson on the important issue of policing and its future in the north of Ireland. Knowing the interest that many of my colleagues have in Irish affairs, I asked them to co-sign the letter. Over 120 Members of Congress signed on, an unprecedented number, in urging the British government to fully implement the Patten reforms on policing.
``The resolution that I introduced in the House of Representatives, and Senator Kennedy introduced in the Senate, would put the United States Congress on record in this debate. It would add our strong voice to the growing list of individuals and groups internationally who support the full implementation of the Patten Report.'
``Patten was a compromise,'' said Neal, ``and a new beginning to policing was an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement.'' He urged the British government to implement Patten in a full and uncompromising manner.
Congressman Smith, who has held five hearings on the RUC, spoke of the bipartisan support for a new policing service and said that the Policing Bill, ``clearly falls short of what is needed to produce a policing service supported by nationalists. The RUC is not acceptable.
``If not disbandment altogether,'' he said ``then this resolution is clear and unambiguous - no Band-Aids - no sugar coating. This Bill is not acceptable. We are watching them very closely.''
Congressman Crowley spoke strongly on the need for ``a brand new police service'' and described the Patten Report as the minimum.
Congressman Peter King made the point that policing was a metaphor for the entire peace process, highlighting the inequality, bias, illegality, and collusion of the RUC. This was a huge issue for nationalists, he said. Again and again, congressional representatives emphasized that the British government's policing bill did not reflect Patten.
Congressional Representatives from Massachusetts and Connecticut down to Florida and Georgia demonstrated the understanding in the USA of the need for a police service reflecting and identifying with the people it is supposed to serve. They rejected the British government's policing bill is not only inadequate but evidence of bad faith by the British government.
Congressman Robert Menendez of New Jersey accounted for the diverse support by explaining that Menendez is actually an Irish name which found it way over to Ireland via a failed attack by the Spanish Armada. Congressmen Donald Payne and Doc Hastings, both African American Congressmen, informed those in attendance that they too were Irish and stood in solidarity with the rest of the `black Irish'. While these comments added a jovial air to a very serious topic, they also demonstrated how significant and strong such diverse support for the resolution truly is.
From the Senate side of the Hill, Senator Edward Kennedy added his support to the events of the day. ``The Patten Commission recommended a sensible agenda for reform. It proposed long overdue changes capable of attracting the allegiance of all. It shouldn't be watered down under unionist pressure,'' the senator said. A similar resolution initiated by Senator Kennedy is scheduled to be considered by the Senate International Relations Committee soon.
Noraid Speaks out on policing
The chair of the national executive of Irish Northern Aid (Noraid) in the United States, paul Doris, has called on Peter Mandelson, and the British government, ``to immediately stop playing politics with policing reform and to make all the changes necessary to bring the current police bill into line with the Patten Commission recommendations.
``On 10 September,'' said Doris, ``Peter Mandelson, made a scurrilous attempt to divert attention off the police reform issue and back onto IRA weapons. He called for the IRA to open its arms dumps again, soon, to the international inspectors in order to boost people's confidence.
``After a summer of loyalist rioting and violence, public displays of loyalist arms and no movement whatsoever on loyalist disarmament, Mandelson has said the IRA should re-open its dumps to `ensure that arms and explosives have not been used'. The British government needs to ``boost people's confidence.
``The only organization that has consistently offered and kept confidence building measures is the IRA. This is Mandelson's feeble attempt to throw a curve into to upcoming debate on the police bill. It is time the British government get real about what they have committed to do in regards to the Good Friday Agreement.
Irish Northern Aid calls upon Tony Blair to keep his word. And, along with the rest of the Irish American community, we believe the current legislation, which Mandelson authored, to be grossly inadequate. A new policing service, which has the confidence of all sides, republican, loyalist, nationalist and unionist, must be established if there is to be impartial, non-sectarian justice. Only then will lasting peace be truly enshrined.
``We, as Irish Northern Aid activists, must be vigilant against any and all attempts by the British to divert or water down the issue of police reform. We have tremendous bi-partisan support in the US on this issue, the RUC have been de-cloaked, and we must continue to ask our law makers to apply their influence to a complete change in policing for the Six Counties.''