21 September 2000 Edition
Even Police Authority slams Mandelson's Bill
BY LAURA FRIEL
Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly says that the current British government proposals on policing fall far short of the changes proposed in the Patten Report.
Kelly warns that British manoeuverings over the RUC is damaging nationalist confidence in the British government.
``Current provision continues to give excessive powers to the British Secretary of State and this could harm the independence of the policing board, which Patten saw as essential,'' said Kelly. He added that responsibility and power for any new policing service should lie with the policing board as ``the chief tool of democratic accountability''.
Peter Mandelson's claims that the proposed Policing Bill represents a faithful implementation of the Patten Report suffered a further blow this week when the British government's own appointed Police Authority in the North publicly slammed the Bill.
The legislation as it currently stands falls short of the changes envisaged by Patten, the Authority pointed out. It is vital that aspects of the policing legislation be amended if the new beginning promised by the Patten Report is to be realised, they said.
The Police Authority, which is itself to be replaced by a new cross party policing board in line with Patten, published what will be their last annual report this week. The authority said that the legislation proposed by Mandelson allows for ``the appearance of oversight without the real power to back it up''.
Branded as a ``poodle'' rather than an effective watchdog, the Authority itself was undermined due to a lack of any meaningful independence in its role of monitoring the RUC. The failure of the authority to provide basic accountability led to it being boycotted by nationalists.
Authority Chairperson Pat Armstrong said that in three key areas the bill fails to deliver. ``Without significant changes to its provisions on financial accountability, police planning and powers on reports and inquiries, this legislation will render the new policing board worse off than the current Police Authority.
``The impact of insufficient powers on reports and inquiries, combined with the possible removal of the board's power to audit police finances, significantly reduces the board's ability to hold the police service accountable,'' the Authority spokesperson continued.
The Authority's criticisms follow widespread domestic and international pressure condemning the proposed Bill and calling for the full implementation of the Patten Report. ``The overall result of the legislation as it stands,'' said Armstrong, ``is a less powerful policing board and a more powerful secretary of state.''
The public criticism of the Policing Bill by the Police Authority comes at the end of a bad week for the British Secretary of State over the implementation of Patten. In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, SDLP spokesperson Alex Attwood said that his party would not take their seats on the new police board if the main recommendations of Patten are not included in the legislation.
Concerns on policing voiced in Fermanagh
A public meeting to discuss the policing issue in the Six Counties was held in Lisnaskea, County Fermanagh, on Wednesday, 13 September. The meeting, organised by the Committee For a New Police Service, heard from different shades of nationalist opinion.
Pat Fahy, a Tyrone solicitor, Fr Joe McVeigh, human rights activist; Tommy Gallagher of the SDLP and Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey made up the platform while Sister Majella Carron chaired the meeting.
The panel agreed that there was no support for the Policing Bill within the nationalist community and that the Bill was an attempt to subvert the Patten recommendations.
Alex Maskey said that Sinn Féin's position was that the RUC should be disbanded. He accused Mandelson of a campaign of deceit in an effort to undermine the Patten proposals. He said it was a case of the British Government acting once more in bad faith on commitments given last May at the time of the IRA's initiative.
Pat Fahy said that policing was a core issue that could not be dodged and unless dealt with satisfactorily there was no hope for the Good Friday Agreement.
Tommy Gallagher welcomed the opportunity to speak and listen to people's views on what was an important issue and spoke of the glaring inadequacies of the Policing Bill. ``There can be no tampering with Patten and unless there are radical changes to the Bill, there is going to be no new beginning,'' he said.
Fr Joe McVeigh said the Bill had ditched many key recommendations of Patten, particularly in the areas of accountability and representation. ``It was,'' he said, ``a kick in the teeth for all those who made submissions to Patten.''