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26 October 2000 Edition

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Policing reform needed North and South

Policing reform, as envisaged by the Patten Report, is also a big issue south of the border, according to a leading consultant on policing.

Johnny Connolly, who has written extensively on policing issues and works as a consultant on community policing in Dublin's inner city, was speaking at a Public Talk on Policing on Tuesday night in Dublin's Connolly Books. While he acknowledged that there have been some positive moves by the Gardaí on community policing in recent times, Connolly said that ``all of these (Patten's) recommendations, if they were implemented here, would move us streets ahead in terms of the accountability of the Gardaí''.

Connolly was joined on the platform by Michael Finucane, solicitor and son of the late Pat Finucane, who was killed by loyalist forces in 1989, acting in collusion with British Intelligence Services. Finucane now practices law in the 26 Counties and he agreed with Connnolly that there is a need for radical change in the structures, powers and practices of the Gardaí. However, he also said that while the Patten proposals offered the prospect of radical change, their dilution in the British House of Commons Policing Bill is disappointing. ``What started off as a glass of reasonably good claret now looks more like ribena as it passes through Westminster,'' he said.

Finucane pointed to examples from his own experience where Gardaí were both inept and unprofessional in their dealings with the public. He criticised the lack of ongoing training received by the Gardaí and also their failure to show adequate discipline when interrogating suspects.

While the RUC has ``colluded in acts of terrorism'', Finucane said, they do have standard procedures which ``leave the Gardaí standing''. The requirement for the presence of a solicitor during interviews and shorter, tape-recorded interrogation periods are simple procedures applied by the RUC, which should also be observed by the Gardaí, he said.

But the Gardaí do have the advantage of starting from ``a position of widespread support'', Finucane said, and ``they enjoy a confidence that gives them a springboard and a platform for change''. This has not been harnessed, however, according to the solicitor.

Using their last annual report as an example, Finucane highlighted the significant absence of sections on human rights issues, training and the development of new techniques. He said that there are elements in the force that are ``completely resistant to change and completely resistant to public accountability''.
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