13 October 2000 Edition

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Patten Commissioner speaks out

A member of the Patten Commission, speaking at a public meeting in Toronto last week, reiterated that the Patten Report cannot be ``cherry picked''. Dr. Clifford Shearing made the comment at a public meeting on ``Policing and the Irish Peace Process'' organised by the Toronto-based Information on Ireland Campaign.

Shearing said he was ``taken back'' by what he saw as a failure by everyone to focus on the main points of Patten. The University of Toronto criminologist explained how Patten has been charged with bringing forward recommendations ``for a new beginning in policing'' in the North of Ireland. He stressed how the emphasis should be on ``policing'' rather than on ``the police''.

The South African born academic told a packed lecture hall how the Patten Report envisaged a strong, independent Policing Board whose task would be to bring together, secure, and support networks of ``policing nodes'' involving various institutions in Six-County society. The new police service was to be but one ``node'' in these multifaceted, dynamic policing networks.

Central to the success of the Patten project would be the establishment of a policing budget not controlled by any one node and strong District Policing Partnership Boards capable of raising monies to help build local policing networks involving institutions in each community.

Critically, Shearing observed that the policing networks required complete transparency throughout to ensure success, including a Police Board with broad investigatory powers. The professor believed that this holistic approach to policing is vital and cannot be ``cherry picked''.

When asked about the current debate over the new police service's name, badge and symbols, Shearing explained how the Commission decided that the name and symbols of the new service must be neutral if Catholics were to join it. He went on to say that if Catholics did not join the new police service, then it would be ``worthless''.

Sharing the platform with Dr. Shearing was Dr John McGarry, coauthor of ``Policing Northern Ireland: Proposals for a new start''. McGarry criticised the Mandelson Bill for failing to implement the Patten Report. With respect to the current crisis, McGarry said there was ``no easy way out'' of the impasse.

However, the Belfast-born academic believed that the Blair government should implement Patten in full because it ``offered the prize'' of an impartial police force acceptable to both communities.

McGarry recognised that a consequence of Patten's full implementation could be the fall of David Trimble. According to McGarry, this was a price that regrettably ``had to be paid to get policing right'' for the future of Northern Ireland.

The third speaker at the meeting, Alan McConnell of the Information on Ireland Campaign, condemned the British government for politicising the policing debate by failing to implement Patten in full.

He pointed to increasing anger In Irish Canada over the handling of the issue by Secretary of State Mandelson. The Toronto lawyer concluded that the Blair government still had ``time to get it right'' and encouraged Irish Canadians to pressure the British government for full implementation of the Patten Report.

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