Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

23 November 2000 Edition

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Police Bill a broken promise

Just as the Peter Mandelson's flawed Police Bill was being hurried through its final vote in the House of Commons on a guillotine motion at Westminster on Tuesday night, 21 November, Sinn Féin national chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin, together with the Alliance Party's David Ford and Women's Coalition member and Deputy Speaker of the Assembly, Jane Morrice, was addressing a meeting of the Friends of the Good Friday Agreement in the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons a short distance away.

As the television screens in the room flashed up the names of each of the speakers on the bill in turn, McLaughlin explained to his audience why the party is so angry about the promises made and broken by the British government on the critical issue of police reform and the way in which such reform has been sacrificed for the sake of David Trimble and the Ulster Unionist Party. He also explained the profound difficulties which the failure to implement Pattern would create both in the medium and longer term.

``We may well be at the end of this particular journey,'' he said of the current state of the peace process; ``not at conflict resolution, not at a democratic settlement, not at an end to weapons in our society nor an end to the mindsets which makes people use those weapons and not at the point where there is a bridge of trust between the British government, the Irish government and the political parties on the island of Ireland.

``David Trimble's actions of a few weeks ago have been rationalised by some as `what else could he do?' and by others as a clear step by the leadership of the UUP into the No camp, on to an agenda determined by an unelected body called the Ulster Unionist Council, who are threatening to pull down the shutters on the Assembly, on the Executive, and on all our hopes.

But, he went on, there are continual threats to the process ``What is happening in this House today is a direct threat. The British government gave a formal, open, voluntary commitment to deliver Patten. They also made an agreement with the IRA on 5 May at the Hillsborough negotiations that they would deliver Patten in full.

``The British government are quite deliberately, quite cynically, in a planned fashion, reneging on the public promise which they made in May this year, and that essential bridge of trust between the IRA and the British government has been broken. David Trimble, too, has embarked on a course of action where he is saying that, unless the IRA re-engages with De Chastelain in a substantial fashion, he will progressively terminate the North/South dimension of the Good Friday Agreement.'' In the light of the betrayal of the Police Bill, asked McLaughlin, ``does anyone believe it is possible now to go back to the IRA and say to them to re-engage with De Chastelain?''

The Police Bill, he continued, is ``a broken promise, done deliberately, quite consciously'', although it is not that British government don't understand the implications of breaking that promise. ``They have been told over and over again. Not just by Sinn Féin, but by the SDLP, by the Irish government, by the College of Catholic Bishops and by individual members of the Patten Commission itself. They have said, `look, you are making a mess of this; you are reneging on commitments you have made'. All of that is a demonstration, again, of a partial approach, of a partisan approach.

``So you get the situation such as last week in Derry, where the Chief Constable had the brass neck to tell the council that he was not going to take down the surveillance tower which looks into people's bedrooms on a 24-hour basis. Those are the issues which are like daggers to the throat of the peace process.''


Peace process in free fall


Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has urged the British and Irish governments to recognise that the peace process is now into a ``rolling crisis'', following the passing of the finalised British Police Bill at Westminster on Tuesday night.

McNamara said that elderly people were described by one RUC trainer as custard-dribbling old fools
Speaking at the launch of Sinn Féin's Pre-Budget Submission on Wednesday, Adams also said that the next Cross-Border Ministerial meeting, scheduled to take place between Education Minister Martin McGuinness and his 26-County counterpart, would be ``unlikely'' to take place on a bi-lateral basis.

This followed news that the two Sinn Féin ministers' legal application for a judicial review of David Trimble's decision to exclude the party from Cross-Border Ministerial Meetings has been successful.

``Bi-laterals are not an alternative to the provisions that have been mandated under Strand Two of the Good Friday Agreement,'' he said. Asked why the party may switch from the strategy employed in the immediate aftermath of Trimble's decision, when Bairbre de Brún attended a meeting with counterpart Micheál Martin - despite the ban - Adams said that that decision was right at that time. He pointed to the fact that the Ulster Unionist Council ban had been implemented almost one month ago, with little or no progress since.

This lack of progress, he said, has been compounded by the failure of the British government to implement the Patten proposals. The British Police Bill has been criticised as a subversion of the Patten proposals by Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Dublin government, the Catholic hierarchy and, significantly, in comments made by Patten Commission member Clifford Shearing amid a blaze of publicity last week.

Oblivious to this, the bill was passed on Tuesday night amid a lacklustre debate in the British House of Commons. SDLP leader Séamus Mallon was surprisingly uncritical as he evaded the substantive issues raised by the bill, asking for `greater clarification' on issues such as the flying of flags from police barracks.

British Labour party member Kevin McNamara was more critical when he cited the findings of a report by the Six-County Human Rights Commission on RUC training. The report, which expressed serious objections to the human rights training given by the RUC to its personnel is, he said, a disturbing consideration in light of the failure to incorporate adequate human rights training into the Police Bill.

RUC tutors were accused in the report of sidelining and creating a negative attitude towards human rights. McNamara said that elderly people were described by one trainer as `custard-dribbling old fools'.

``I don't think that anyone can have any confidence that the new beginning that was required under the Good Friday Agreement is being pursued by the British Government,'' Adams said. ``We only have to look at who it's being left to: the RUC Chief Constable. The British Government have missed a hugely important opportunity.''

Questioned as to whether Sinn Féin would be open to a review of the Good Friday Agreement, Adams said that the context for any review would be centred on the failure of David Trimble to honour his commitments.

``The only basis on which there could be a review would have to be that David Trimble is in breach of the Good Friday Agreement and his code of office. But there is no question of our commitment as republicans to achieving the necessary change.

``We have devoted our lives to this kind of change and we aren't going to give up.''


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