5 April 2001 Edition

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Policing propaganda cuts no ice

BY MICHAEL PIERSE

Sinn Féin has accused the British government of using the policing issue as propaganda, following the release of information to the media this week regarding recent applications to the RUC.

While 8,000 applications have been received by the RUC, under the guise of their `Police Service of Northern Ireland' (PSNI) recruitment campaign, Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey said the figures were of little significance.

``There will be less than 3 per cent of these people actually recruited,'' he said. ``That means it's going to take, at the current level of recruitment, in the region of 25 years to give us a representative police service.'' The Belfast City councillor said that this scenario was unacceptable to his constituents.

Advertisements for the PSNI first appeared on 23 Febuary this year. However, Sinn Féin pointed out at the time that even under British legislation the adverts were illegal. According to the British Police Bill, enacted late last year, it was prohibited for an advertisement campaign to commence prior to consulatations with the Police Board. This board, aimed at including political parties in the decision-making process, has not yet been set up.

In line with the general trend of excluding the political parties, all the decision making has been left to RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan. Since its inception, the advertising campaign has been greeted with hostility from republican and nationalist politicians. They have said an attempt to recruit to the RUC by merely substituting the name RUC for PSNI is disingenuous and misleading in the extreme.

This hostility was sharpened in the last few days also, by the decision of the British government to issue a new type of plastic bullet. The decision was seen as yet another blow to the Patten Report, which had recommended that the deployment of the weapon be ``discontinued as soon as possible'' and that alternatives be ``sought urgently''. Plastic and rubber bullets have been responsible for the deaths of 17 people and the wounding of countless others.

Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty said that plastic bullets remain unacceptable, despite assurances from British Secretary of State, John Reid, that the British government is commited to fulfilling their obligations under Patten on this issue.

``When plastic bullets were introduced to replace rubber bullets we were told that they would be safer and that there would be more accountability and better training,'' he said. ``This was obviously not what happened.

``John Reid wants us now to believe that we will get a safer plastic bullet. The only safe reponse is the banning of plastic bullets.''

Meanwhile in the Stormont assembly, the Alliance Party engaged in their own helping of cynical political manoeuverings during the week. The announcement that they have decided to withdraw their candidature for the Westminster elections in five election areas, was branded as ``attempting to make a virtue out of a necessity'' by Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly.

The party announced that they would not field candidates in North Belfast, Upper Bann, Fermanagh/South Tyrone, Mid Ulster, and Newry and Armagh, on the basis that they could have a detrimental effect on the chances of pro-Good Friday Agreement candidates.

Kelly said the decision was in reality far more about practicalities than ideals. ``The Alliance Party would have voters believe that they have placed the needs of the Good Friday Agreement ahead of their own party political interests. I would suggest that the reasons underlying this decision have more to do with their abysmal showing in the elections to the European Parliament last year than out of concern for the Agreement,'' he said.

``The Alliance Party are a spent force. Political observers would write off their chances of success in the coming elections. Against this background they have chosen not to embarrass themselves by contesting each and every constituency. However, rather than admit to their inadequacies they have attempted to present what is to them a necessity as a political virtue.''

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