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15 August 2002 Edition

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SDLP split on PSNI

BY MICHAEL PIERSE


A DECISION by the SDLP chairperson of Omagh District Council to abstain from a vote on policing has prompted claims of internal divisions within the party on the contentious issue.

Chairperson Pat McDonnell abstained last week on a vote for the establishment of a District Policing Partnership (DPP), prompting claims that the party is failing to convince even its own members of the merits of the PSNI.

On Wednesday 7 August, while fellow SDLP councillors, including Policing Board member Joe Byrne, voted in favour of the DPP, McDonnell broke with party policy and abstained. Ten councillors voted for the DPP, with eight against and just one abstention, meaning that the body will be set up.

Under Policing Board regulations, all 26 councils across the Six Counties must vote on the establishment of DPPs, which are due to be up and running by September.

McDonnell's abstention followed a plea from Sinn Féin Councillor, Barry McElduff, for SDLP members to vote against the proposal or at least abstain. "Sinn Féin supported the need for a new police service but PSNI doesn't amount to a new beginning," McElduff said. "I asked the chairman to join with me but if he didn't have the courage to join me he should abstain.

"I think it means the SDLP need to convince their own members about the Policing Board before they start lecturing Sinn Féin. This has to be a matter of concern for the party." McElduff, however, said he welcomed the fact that "there are signs of new thinking and a shift" in the SDLP's position.

McDonnell has since insisted, however, that he had abstained in order to protect the "neutrality of the chair".

Sinn Féin councillors spoke prior to the vote of the control of the UDA by the RUC/PSNI Special Branch and their targeting and killing of nationalists. The SF members said that the PSNI was merely a cosmetic name change, and that corruption still lurks within the new policing arrangements.
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