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16 September 1999 Edition

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Patten meets mixed response

by Laura Friel

  One thing is for certain, the RUC is finished.  
Gerry Adams

This week, nationalists and republicans throughout Ireland start the process of examining and discussing the Patten Report on policing in the Six Counties.

The issue of policing is vital to the success of the Agreement and of the peace process. One thing is certain, however. Nationalists and republicans will never accept the RUC, not reformed, repackaged, renamed, nor presented in any other guise. These people's daily experience of the RUC is one of routine harassment and ignorance at best and of murder at worst. If the RUC and Ronnie Flanagan are to remain in situ, the confidence among nationalists that is vital if real change is to come about will simply not exist. The task ahead of us is to decide if this is a fresh start.

Sinn Féin greeted the long-anticipated report with reserve last Thursday, 9 September, pointing out that nothing less than disbandment was acceptable for a force as fundamentally flawed and with as atrocious a record as the RUC. The party, however, will study his lengthy proposals and consult with members before making a definitive decision on the report itself.

``The future of policing is inextricably linked with the fate of the Good Friday Agreement,'' said Gerry Adams, outlining Sinn Féin's response. ``It is clear that a new policing service, democratically accountable and reflecting the society which it seeks to police, is essential if the Agreement is to be implemented in full and political progress achieved.

``Nationalists and republicans need to be convinced that the Patten Report is indeed a `new beginning'. A repackaged RUC will not attract any measure of support.

``But one thing is for certain - the RUC is finished.''

The party would take its time and look carefully before making a decision, said Bairbre de Brún. ``We want to establish whether or not what is being proposed is effectively the creation of a new police service,'' said Martin McGuinness, ``because if we create a new police service, then we have effectively disbanded the RUC.''

Whatever about the republican response, Patten had barely presented his recipe for policing in the Six Counties when David Trimble declared the Commission's handiwork ``the shoddiest he had seen in 30 years''.

Furthermore, Trimble assured us, when it comes to shoddiness he had plenty of experience. Not that anyone watching Trimble's performance since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement needs any reminding of that. Proposals to change the name and emblems of the RUC were a ``gratuitous insult'', said Trimble. A betrayal, added the Police Federation, of the widows of murdered officers.

It's not often that a former British cabinet minister and colonial governor is treated with such dismissive discourtesy. This has been ``the most difficult and gruelling job I have ever done'', admitted Patten. The Commission's report was exactly what the Agreement had ordered, he said.

In marked contrast, the SDLP welcomed the report, which Seamus Mallon said was a ``watershed in the history of policing in the north of Ireland''. It had the ``potential to create for the first time a truly representative and accountable police service'', he felt.

The SDLP pledged to work in every way to achieve a new policing dispensation. ``As part of that encouragement we will call on nationalists, especially the young, to seek careers in the police,'' said Mallon.

Somewhere out back, the DUP were sharpening their knives. Ian Paisley was the first to plunge the dagger. Patten, said Paisley, had presided over the commission and done the work of `Mother Church'.

Peter Robinson's knife was out, but Trimble, not Patten, was to feel the edge, as he blamed those parties who signed up to the accord. The RUC was ``being emasculated and destroyed with the support of those who signed the Belfast Agreement,'' said Robinson.

Deputy leader of the UUP, John Taylor, had both Trimble and Patten in his sights. Pouring oil on the troubled waters of Trimble's leadership, Taylor announced, in the wake of the Patten Report, he was quitting the Mitchell Review. Paisley had already played the sectarian card, it was left to Taylor to wheel out the racist response.

To put it bluntly, Patten is not only a taig, he's also Irish, at least according to John Taylor's criteria. Describing the report as ``outrageous, a total surrender of all our Britishness,'' Taylor concluded ``but of course Mr Patten's roots come from Galway, so I wasn't surprised that was the kind of report he'd finally bring out.''

Meanwhile, an astute Ronnie Flanagan is already unveiling his counter-Patten strategy. Leaving the temper tantrums to David Trimble, the RUC Chief Constable appeared calm and reasonable. The RUC ``stood ready for change'', pledged Flanagan. There were many changes his force would welcome and had been eager and willing to introduce, he said.

``There are many of those recommendations that are simply good for policing,'' continued Flanagan, BUT ``I have an overarching responsibility to protect the public from the threat of terrorist violence and if that's ignored, and I don't think for a second that it can be ignored, then I would not be part of any arrangements.'' So Flanagan expects to be the final implementation gainsayer.

Within 24 hours of the report's publication, Flanagan was warning of a ``new'' terrorist threat. ``Dissident republicans now outnumber IRA,'' dutifully reported Alan Murray of the Sunday Life. ``Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan has warned that dissident IRA elements are planning a major attack in the border area, to destroy George Mitchell's attempts to salvage the Good Friday Agreement.''

The briefing to senior RUC officers on Friday indicating that IRA dissidents now outnumber the Provisional IRA was based on Special Branch assessments, we are told. The same Special Branch which Patten recommends incorporating into the CID, whose covert operations carte blanche is to be curtailed and whose notorious interrogation centres are to be closed down.

Is it any wonder that republicans are reluctant to embrace a report which leaves the door open for Flanagan and his ilk to stay in office and influence.

Media Reaction to Patten

``Betrayed'', ran the Newsletter's front page banner headline across a photograph of a Union Jack-draped coffin carried by uniformed RUC officers. ``They still stand proud and salute their colleagues and families who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the fight against terrorism,'' ran the front page, but inside the message was more restrained. ``What we are obliged to do is to ask that the recommendations be considered at length and their merits and shortcomings weighed carefully in the balance, `` said the editorial.

If the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement had been honoured (by republicans), argues the Newsletter, many of Patten's recommendations would be more acceptable to unionists. As things stand, reorganisation seems premature. ``Worse still, as politicians begin to get their teeth into the real meat of the document, fears are rising that the proposed changes will... open up a tradesman's entrance through which some of society's most dubious characters could pass.''

For the Irish News, it's ``A new beginning'', with Chris Patten ``in the hot seat''. ``Chris Patten and his team were faced with an immense task, and they had to proceed in the full knowledge that their deliberations would have a central impact on a delicately balanced political process. The Patten Commission has responded with a comprehensive, authoritative and challenging document, which deserves to be studied in detail by every responsible individual.'' It is left to columnist Brian Feeney to strike the more cautious note.

``The central structure that Patten proposes is the worm at the heart of the apple,'' says Feeney, ``If everything else in the structure depends on it, it hands unionists a veto. Already, they've tied it to the formation of an executive and decommissioning, and will raise it with Mitchell as an obstacle to the implementation of the agreement. So far unionists are concentrating their fire on what to nationalists seem contrived objections to issues like flags and emblems..their real objection is to nationalists and republicans running `their' police.''

And then we have the 26-County revisionists. The torture of detainees, summary execution and collusion with loyalist death squads are forgotten, as is the northern nationalist experience of decades of RUC harassment, as Ruth Dudley Edwards poses the question ``Why inflict pointless wounds on Ulster's Protestants?''

``For 30 years the RUC has stopped Northern Ireland from descending into anarchy and through its vigilance and intelligence work has stopped innumerable republican and loyalists bullets and bombs from hitting targets on the British mainland and in the Republic of Ireland,'' wrote Dudley Edwards in the London Independent.

The courage and suffering of these `decent Ulster policemen' has been ignored while their tormentors have been rewarded. The ``ludicrous aspiration'' of providing a police force which would be acceptable to the whole community, argued Dudley Edwards, ``is at the heart of the report's deficiencies.''

``In Britain, society does not aspire to have a police force that is acceptable to anarchists, Yardies and Triads. So why should the RUC be made acceptable to the IRA, the Ulster Volunteer Force and all the other fascists who hate the forces of law and order?'' Here we go again, Ruth, air brushing northern nationalists, Catholics, even the SDLP out of the picture. Or is everyone who criticises the RUC to be dismissed as fascists, or the dupe of fascists? Stalker? Stevens? Param Cumaraswamy? Diane Hamill?

Meanwhile Eoghan Harris of the Sunday Times considered the RUC's record of ``courage under fire''.

``When I was a boy, belting out the ballad of Sean South in Cork pubs, the IRA were the heroes and the RUC were the fascists. Today I would look at it the other way round, `` admits Harris. He continues, ``When northern nationalists wonder why I think the way I do, then in turn I wonder what's wrong with them. Why do they not see the RUC as by and large a decent body of men and women as many of us in the republic do?''

From a more sensible contribution to the debate, Anne Cadwallader in Ireland on Sunday acknowledged Patten as emerging ``from the RUC minefield with credit.'' ``Implicit in every line of the Patten report, in every recommendation, the message was unavoidable. The RUC was, and is, a force that demands change of the most radical nature.''

It isn't disbandment, said Cadwallader, but it's pretty close. ``Whatever the merits of the recommendations they have made, the sheer scope and depth of their work shows they did, after all, conclude something was very rotten in the state of the RUC.''

The amount of money available to pay off members of the RUC who wish to go, is telling in itself. A staggering £148 million in the first year. RUC officers can opt for the early retirement plan at 50 years of age with those under 50 but with five years in the force also eligible. Jim McDowell of the Sunday World suggests that over 40 per cent would leave right away if the package was right. Cadwallader puts the figure at closer to 800.

The Patten report has many sound recommendations, but it all depends on how the British government deals with them, writes Johnny Connolly of The Sunday Business Post. ``If the recommendations.. are ever implemented, they have the potential to produce one of the most democratically accountable and effective policing processes in the world. But that is a big `if `.

In sharp contrast to the unionist line that the only thing wrong with the RUC is lack of Catholic recruitment resulting from republican intimidation, the report acknowledges that ``failings in public order policing in the 1960's were partly responsible for the `troubles' of the following 30 years and for deepening nationalist estrangement from the RUC.''

Connolly criticises the reports failure to ban the use of plastic bullets. ``It justifies the retention of plastic bullets largely on the basis that they are preferable to live rounds. It is far from certain that the police would feel as free to use live rounds in riot situations as they tend to do with plastic bullets.''

Connolly reminds us that during the Orange marching season of 1996 ``in a clearly sectarian use of this deadly weapon, 5,340 plastic rounds were fired at nationalists while 662 were fired at unionists.''The failure of the report to recommend that police officers should be precluded from membership of the Orange Order is also criticised.

One point which ``significantly undermines the report'', says Connolly, ``is its reluctance to envisage former political prisoners in the new police force. While Connolly is positive about many of the recommendations, he's less optimistic about them ever being implemented. ``The hysterical reaction of the best suggests a serious failure to understand the most modest aspirations of the Good Friday Agreement and at worst, a complete repudiation of its basic principles.''

``It is important not to allow the howl of rage from unionism at the loss of it's private army,'' writes Tom McGurk, ``to disguise the immensity and importance of the Patten Report.'' But in his enthusiasm for Patten, McGurk gets carried away. ``Last Thursday, the last surviving element of the one party partitioned state that was Northern Ireland disappeared in 175 swingeing recommendations.''

In sharp contrast to Brian Feeney, who sees any attempt to link the issue of decommissioning to the implementation of the Patten Report as a stalling tactic of unionism, McGurk embraces the idea: ``The Patten report is nothing less than the official disarming of legally armed unionism and the IRA must now bite the bullet and recognise that if all these recommendations are carried through their arms have to disappear as well.''


Militias and supremacist culture


I ARGUED in this paper - (27 April 1995) in an article to mark the 25th anniversary of the setting up of the UDR - that the Orange statelet and out-of-control loyalist state militias went hand in hand.

I said then that changes of name per se were meaningless if there wasn't also a change of substance. The B-Specials had been disbanded and we got the ``non-sectarian'' UDR in their stead in 1970. In the end, it was the same good ol' boys: B-Men in new uniforms with better guns from the British taxpayer.

The point is that the arming of any psychotic bigot who wanted to legally stiff a taig and get paid for it was built into the DNA of the Orange State. To finally remove the militias is to weaken the Orange State irreparably, to compromise the Union.

The Northern state without the RUC is an amputee.

Therefore, although the knee-jerk rejection to the Patten Report by unionism is depressing, it shouldn't surprise anyone. To look at unionism today is to see a people fighting for their way of life and their culture. Unfortunately, their particular model of humanity requires a steady supply of victims to bait, taunt, intimidate and, when they feel like it, murder.

When the sash, flute and Lambeg drum are viewed in a situation free of state-approved intimidation, Orangeism has all the vibrancy of Morris dancing. Whether it is bowler hats or pillowcases with eyeholes, grand masters or imperial wizards, it could all be filed under ``men behaving bizarrely''.

However, when the oath-bound secret society has a hate agenda and it has exclusive control over the local armed state, then that isn't funny in the slightest. The Twelth is Glorious for Billy because it's a day to really ram it down Taig throats. Stewarding the entire degradation ceremony is THEIR police force. The RUC is THEIR culture, and the RUC is about keeping nationalists in their place.

In the aftermath of the killing of Rosemary Nelson it was said that Rosemary was the Six Counties' equivalent of an ``uppity nigger''. This statement brought a fusillade of abuse from the usual suspects.

Unionism is uncomfortable with the comparison with the Southern states of the USA. In the early 1960s, the federal government in America realised that the local states just couldn't be trusted with power. JFK sent in the US Army. The GIs were, in the last resort, the guarantors of the civil rights of African-Americans in the Southern states.

The Harold Wilson government, seeing the RUC beaten by Derry's risen people in 1969, also sent in the troops - but in this case to reinforce Stromont's defeated army. There are mistakes and there are mistakes that make the march of history mark time. Westminster bottled it. The idea that they had within their own state's boundaries an apartheid statelet when they were busy leaning on Rhodesia was an appalling vista. Much better to blame it on the kids from the Bogside or non-existent foreign agitators.

To look at the institutions of the Northern state - and the RUC is THE institution of the Northern state - is to examine the DNA of unionism. Not a nice place in there. The culture that spawns Trimble's worldview is one based on HIS people and HIS police force keeping the other lot down.

Norn Iron needs its niggers for its way of life to be preserved for future generations of bigots. Stripped of their ability to rape, burn and murder with impunity, putting the pillowcase over the head just seems to lose its cultural appeal.

Today in the United States, the Klan remains a cabal of racist sickos, but they no longer have the carte blanche from the local states that they enjoyed in their heyday. Their day is gone. Today, a Klansman who acts out his racist bile and kills a black person could find himself on Death Row. That would have been unthinkable while the federal government in Washington unfettered the local states.

In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan reached its height just as the Orange State was being set up. The Orange anthem, The Billy Boys, commemorates the Scottish loyalist Billy Fullerton.

When he wasn't being a busy Billy in the Nazi British Union of Fascists or one of Mosely's Blackshirts, he was establishing the first chapter of the Klan in his native Bridgeton in the East End of Glasgow.

Both the Orange state and the bits of the US South of that ol' Mason-Dixon Line are based on a culture of repression. The active collusion in that repression by the locally-recruited, locally-controlled state is a common factor. In the final analysis, the central government has to intervene - that's where the buck stops.

So when the bigots are finally told they can't indulge in their traditional pogrom of the underclass any more, they say that their `way of life is under threat'. Living in a society where they have the same rights and privileges of citizenship as everyone else is a terrifying prospect for them.

A society where everyone is treated with parity of esteem is, of course, what the Good Friday Agreement is all about.

Their appalling vista is having to live in a society where they don't have the comfort of being able to clean their feet on someone who is different to them.

Not a pretty picture, is it?


Unionists have withdrawn from process

The Ulster Unionist strategy is to maintain the status quo at all costs and to hollow out the Good Friday Agreement until it is meaningless


The crystal ball expresses hope for a future without the RUC in this mural from the Markets area of Belfast

It must now be clear even to the most pro-unionist elements in Dublin and London that the Ulster Unionist Party's approach to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is entirely tactical. Their strategy is to maintain the status quo at all costs and to hollow out the Good Friday Agreement until it is meaningless.

In the short term, the UUP's approach is one of sitting on its hands in an attempt to divide the Irish nationalist consensus and eventually co-opt the SDLP within a new political arrangement to the exclusion of Sinn Féin and the republican electorate. Alternatively, they hope to drive the entire process into the sand in the hope of forcing the IRA to resume military operations.

Sinn Féin has contended for a very long time that this has been the Unionist strategy but republicans have before and since Good Friday 1998 continually been exhorted from the same predictable quarters to pull David Trimble out of holes which he insists on digging for himself. Such exhortations now ring extremely hollow since the UUP deputy leader John Taylor's disengagement from the Mitchell review and rejection of the Good Friday Agreement. This is compounded by the comments of Ken Maginnis to the effect that the UUP has no faith in either the Good Friday Agreement nor the Mitchell Revew but that an aversion to shouldering blame for collapsing the process was the only thing preventing the party from walking away.

Commenting on John Taylor's actions, Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty said: ``The recent signals from within the UUP can only strengthen the view that the UUP as a whole have rejected the fundamental changes which they signed up to under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

``It was the UUP which wanted this review. Their attitude in recent days towards it is causing growing concern.''

Like everything else, the Patten proposals have to be viewed in the context of the continued non-implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The whole issue of policing is made more difficult by the failure to implement any of the other aspects of that Agreement
Despite commentary that the increasingly obvious rejectionist instincts of the UUP correllated with a mounting challenge of David Trimble's party leadership, this was once again shown to be false as Trimble received overwhelming support from the 120-member ruling Executive at its meeting on Monday.

Following the meeting, Trimble said his position was ``rock solid''. The support he received and the security of his position shows that his stance is entirely in line with the rest of his party in seeking to obstruct the Agreement and all change flowing from it. That support also gives the lie to unionist allies in political and media circles who seek to portray Trimble as a leader in a vulnerable position who, despite a wish to move forward, cannot do so without further concessions from republicans.

Speaking on Tuesday, 14 September, before a meeting with Senator George Mitchell, Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty said his party was approaching the review process in a postive and constructive manner. But this is set against a background of growing concerns about the UUP committment to implementing the Good Friday Agreement.

Doherty said: ``Last week Sinn Féin gave Senator Mitchell a commitment that we would approach the review process in a positive and constructive manner. This is still our intention despite growing concerns that the UUP as a whole have rejected the fundamental changes which they signed up to under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

``This review, as stated by Senator Mitchell last week, is not a renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. The political institutions envisaged under the Good Friday Agreement have not been established. We will again express our belief that this should now happen.

``The Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by the overwhelming majority of the people on the island. There is a democratic imperative to implement it fully. In the absence of a positive approach from the UUP there is an onus on the two governments and in particular the British government to create the conditions where necessary changes can happen.''

On Monday the UUP rejected outright the recommendations of the Patten Commission on policing. In particular, the party rejected proposals to remove existing royalist RUC symbols and the inolvement of international observers to oversee the implementation of Patten.

On behalf of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams said that the party was taking ``a measured and thoughtful attitude'' to the report but that this would not mean Sinn Féin would accept anything less than the total disbandment of the RUC. ``A repackaged RUC will not attract any measure of support. Changes must therefore include both symbols and substance,'' he said.

Within 24 hours of the publication of the Patten proposals, RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan was all of a sudden trotting out a line about a ``renewed terrorist threat from republican dissidents''. Even among the usually compliant security correspondents, there was not much credence given to Flanagan's transparent propaganda attempt to justify the continuance of the RUC.

Like everything else, the Patten proposals have to be viewed in the context of the continued non-implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The whole issue of policing is made more difficult by the failure to implement any of the other aspects of that Agreement.

At this stage, the British government has no reason to misunderstand where unionists are coming from. It is clear to all and sundry that they have effectively withdrawn from the process. It is now up to Tony Blair to grasp the nettle and force the pace of political momentum.


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