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20 September 2001 Edition

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Oversight Commissioner's role reduced and weakened

A Sinn Féin delegation led by party spokesperson on policing, Gerry Kelly, met with Tom Constantine, the Oversight Commissioner for policing, last Friday, 14 September. Also present from the party were Alex Maskey and Michelle Gildernew.

The meeting took place in advance of the release of the Second Oversight Commissioners report into the implementation of the Patten Report on Wednesday, 19 September.

Speaking after the launch of the report on Wednesday Kelly said the meeting had been ``useful and constructive'', But he added that the British government's Policing Act ``reduces and weakens the role and remit of the Oversight Commissioner set out by the Patten Commission.

``The Patten Commission was clear that it's 175 recommendations should `be implemented comphrensively and faithfully' and that the Oversight Commissioner should be the mechanism `to assure the community that all aspects of the [Patten] report are being implemented and being seen to be implemented'.''

Kelly said the British had deliberately undermined the role and diluted the remit of the Oversight Commission with its flawed Police Act.

``At this juncture no one is claiming that we have the required new beginning. Not even the British government. All accept that there is a gap to be closed. The role and remit of the Oversight Commissioner as prescribed by the British government is clearly part of the gap,'' said Kelly.

``The terms of reference task the Oversight Commissioner to oversee the operation of the Police Act rather than the full implementation of the Patten recommendations. The Act diverges from Patten in so many respects that the Commissioner clearly cannot implement the Patten Commission's recommendations.

``The Oversight Commissioner has no powers of direction. Action which would involve legislative change to the police act to bring it into line with Patten remains entirely at the discretion of the British Secretary of State and the RUC Chief Constable.

``As a consequence of all this, the Oversight Commissioner has no power or remit to oversee the implementation of key Patten recommendations, including the new oath for all officers, important accountability mechanisms which could, for instance, prevent collusion in the future and with dealing with human rights abusers within the RUC''.

Kelly said that the party would be giving a more detailed response to the Oversight Commission's second report. He called for the necessary statutory powers to be given to the Oversight Commissioner to fulfil his role and remit of implementing Patten.


Sick RUC invite

Alex Maskey has branded as ``sick'' an RUC invite to Sinn Féin to attend a human rights conference on the theme of `Policing and Human Rights'.

Maskey said the RUC were in no position to lecture anyone on human rights.

``I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the invitation. The RUC have been condemned the world over for their human rights abuses,'' he said. ``This is the same organisation that has killed children with plastic bullets, set people up for assassination and been found guilty of torture in the courts.''

Maskey said the lack of powers of the new policing board would only serve to perpetuate these problems. ``The RUC have absolutely no role no play in any future society on this island and are not in any position to lecture anyone on human rights. This invitation is a slap in the face and a massive insult to the people of West Belfast.''


Ógra picket Crossmaglen barracks

On Saturday 15 September, Ógra Shinn Féin in South Armagh picketed the RUC barracks in Crossmaglen to highlight the fact that the new police service as recommended by the SDLP is no different than the present RUC. Also present were recently elected councillors Terry Hearty and Colman Burns and Assembly member Conor Murphy.

Orla Murphy, spokesperson for Ógra Shinn Féin, South Armagh said:

``It has been acknowledged that a majority of young people voted for Sinn Féin in the recent local and Westminster elections and presumably therefore, they will be taking leadership advice from the party. Ógra Shinn Féin believes that if schools and campuses are to be used as a recruitment platform for this new police service, then young people have the right to opt out of that without any form of intimidation, pressure, or coercion being applied upon them.''

The new start to policing as promised by the SDLP is not evident in areas like South Armagh, said Murphy. On Sunday morning 9 September, she said, people going to Mass were stopped at a checkpoint on the main Newry to Crossmaglen road. The RUC and British Army personnel present demanded that everyone produce identification before being allowed to proceed. That same morning at Silverbridge GAA grounds, British soldiers entered the enclosed car park area and were seen writing down the registration numbers of cars and buses parked there during a match for eight to ten-year-old children. ``These are only small examples of the British Army military operations in this area,'' said Murphy. ``Every day there are reports of constant low flying helicopter activity and as yet every hilltop in South Armagh is still occupied by British Army spyposts.''


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