AP front 1 - 2022

30 November 2000 Edition

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Police Act won't wash


Chris Patten's comments represent ``a closing of ranks by the British establishment on Ireland-related issues,'' said Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey, commenting after the former Tory Minister and last British governor of Hong Kong added his voice this week to the current British government's attempt to pressurise Northern nationalists into accepting Mandelson's Police Act.

``The NIO spin doctors are mounting a fully fledged rearguard action in support of their flawed position and instead of injecting conflict resolution politics into the situation we are getting a dose of nothing but the same old story,'' said Maskey.

In an article published in the Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday, Chris Patten urged political parties in the Six Counties to ``encourage young people from all sections of the community to join the police service created by the British Government's Police Act.

``Political parties and other community leaders should now be working to get their representatives on the Policing Boards and District Policing Partnerships,'' said Patten, who headed the policing commission whose recommendations the British Government has, in the words of one commissioner, ``gutted''.

Ignoring widespread criticisms of the British legislation, not only from republican and nationalist politicians on both sides of the border but also from human rights organisations, academics and individual members of the Patten Commission, Patten advised us to ``get back to the future, to look beyond old political arguments and towards building new policing arrangements''.

Well Chris, this might come as something of a surprise but that's exactly what we are trying to do. Unfortunately that vision for the future doesn't appear to be informing Peter Mandelson's approach. The British Secretary of State seems far more concerned with pandering to the unionist agenda of holding on to an Orange state, and no amount of patronising comments will obscure that.

And if anyone needed reminding just what the unionist mindset has in store they had only to listen to David Trimble speaking in the British House of Commons earlier in the week. Continuing to denounce the Patten Report, Trimble claimed that its recommendation to recruit on a 50-50 basis was contrary to human rights. It appears that even Peter Mandelson can't dilute the report enough to satisfy the First Minister.

The modest proposal to recruit 50% Catholics and 50% Protestants is an affront to David Trimble; after all, this might mean that in ten years time the 93% Protestant monopoly within policing might be eroded to 70%.

Fortunately for David Trimble, such a terrifying prospect is unlikely to emerge in the context of Peter Mandelson's emasculation of the Commission's proposals. The Police Bill, passed into legislation by the British Parliament last week, offers none of the safeguards envisaged by the Commission which might have led nationalists to lend the enterprise their support.

Speaking at a Belfast press conference on Wednesday, 29 November, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams accused the British government of mishandling the issue, which, he said, ``may prevent the creation of a new beginning for policing at this time, but this will only delay that new beginning, not prevent it.''

He aid that although the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle has yet to take a formal position on the matter, it was his view that what had been given away in legislation could not be clawed back in the Act's implementation plan, due to be published by Mandelson within the next few weeks.

``A number of our leading spokespersons have expressed the view that Sinn Féin will not support the policing organisation which emerges from the Mandelson Act and I think that that is likely to be the case,'' the Sinn Féin president said.

``Our goal remains, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement, a new police service and a new beginning to policing, and we will persevere with our efforts. Even if that is not possible within the current phase, policing is such a touchstone issue and such a fundamental entitlement for citizens, that the task of attaining it must continue.''

``There is a need, therefore, for all of us who have worked to achieve this to remain vigilant and to avoid being coaxed, cajoled or pushed into accepting something which would make it more difficult to achieve a proper decent and democratic civic policing service,'' said Adams.

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