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18 July 2002 Edition

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A Police Service representative of the community as a whole?

In this, the third of a series of articles on policing, GERRY KELLY, Sinn Féin spokesperson on policing, addresses one of the Good Friday Agreement's requirements of a 'new beginning to policing' - that is, the requirement of a police service representative of the community it polices

The Good Friday Agreement requires a policing service that is representative of the community as a whole. There is no plan to achieve this. It is time the British government talked turkey on the composition of a new policing service.

The Patten Commission recognised that one of the several major problems of policing in the Six Counties was that the RUC was not part of the community and did not reflect the community. At the point of name change - that is, from RUC to PSNI - the RUC moved en bloc into the PSNI. Since then, there have been somewhere in the region of 450 recruits; half Protestants and half Catholics. Several of these new recruits were former members of the RUC reserve. The PSNI remains wholly unionist and almost exclusively Protestant. The problem remains. The cure is not being implemented.

"Real community policing," said Patten, "is impossible if the composition of the police service bears little relationship to the composition of the community as a whole." To achieve this, Catholics would need to make up at least 45% of the new police service. Indeed, the Patten Report points out that, in the community, the proportions of under 25 year olds are 50/50. But the PSNI remains 90%-plus Protestant. The question of religious background, however, is but one issue. In addition, it is probable that the small Catholic minority in the PSNI are almost all unionist in their outlook.

Patten was very clear that a 'new beginning' to policing would be judged on the basis of success in attracting new nationalist and republican members. In this respect, Patten specified that "there must be no predisposition to exclude candidates from republican backgrounds". Furthermore, "the aim must be that the police service should recruit not only more Catholics, but nationalists and republicans".

If it is the wish of the British government to attract officers from all political persuasions, including nationalists and republicans, into the Police Service, a convincing strategy for fulfilling this wish should be detailed
If it is the wish of the British government to attract officers from all political persuasions, including nationalists and republicans, into the Police Service, a convincing strategy for fulfilling this wish should be detailed.

Patten stressed that "all officers should in our view swear to 'accord equal respect to all individuals and to their traditions and beliefs'". The interaction and interlocking dynamic of core elements of Patten were formulated specifically to change the composition of the new police service.

To rectify this problem, the Patten Commission identified a number of interrelated issues that needed to be addressed. The report saw the need for a new ethos of respect for human rights, of inclusivity, new symbols, a new oath and a new start with rigorous central and local accountability. Without this new start, Catholics, nationalists and republicans would not be willing to join up in sufficient numbers to ensure the critical mass needed to ensure the bedding down of change. 'Lateral entry' was recommended as an additional means towards this end.

Creating a police service in which nationalists and republicans can serve is a key benchmark for success.

Much, correctly, was made of the issue of 'lateral entry' in the course of the processing of the British government's 'Police Act'.

'Lateral entry' is a fast track device recommended by Patten as a means of getting some representation by Catholics/nationalists/republicans at senior levels of the new policing service.

Peter Mandelson dumped this, with much else of Patten, from his initial Police Bill. He also dumped any specific reference in the legislation to the need for special arrangements to attract nationalists and republicans. Only Catholics were to become the target of special attention.

The fightback by the broad political church of Irish nationalist, republican, Catholic and democratic opinion forced the British government to go back to Patten on the lateral entry issue. Eventually, it was incorporated into the 'Police Act'. Implicitly, however, 'nationalists and republicans need not apply' is still stamped all over the legislation. As stated, only Catholics are explicitly marked out for special attention.

But the effectiveness of 'lateral entry', when first put to the test, failed abysmally when it was announced that two senior Gardaí who had applied for senior posts in the new police service were not even called for interview. How many successful applications have there been since then and to what positions in the PSNI? How does this impact on overall composition at this level?

In the Good Friday Agreement, the political representatives of Irish nationalist opinion and the British government signed up for a policing service "representative of the society it polices".

It is time that the British government spelt out the 'how' and the 'when' of achieving a representative policing service.

Sinn Féin has consistently asked the British government to spell this out; to illustrate to young nationalists and republicans that what is on offer is a new representative policing service and not the RUC (incorporating the well intentioned and gullible); that a replay of the 'B' Specials/UDR charade is not underway.

Goals and timetables or targets and timetables are integral to fair employment legislation in the north of Ireland. Yet there are no targets and timetables, even indicative ones, in respect of policing and the requirement of a representative policing service. That is, there is no plan to bring this about. This is one reason why the British government and the new Policing Board need to spell out the detail of the following:

What are the targets and timetables for change in respect of composition
for the end of year one,
the end of year two, and
the end of year three of the proposed policing service;
in each subsequent year?
We need to know.

What specifically will be the effect on composition resulting from
natural wastage,
golden handshakes,
phasing out of the Full Time Reserve,
recruiting to the Part Time Reserve,
Recruitment of regular officers.

What effect will 'lateral entry' have on representation in the senior ranks? How many people are they attempting to recruit in this way and what measures are being used to achieve this?

What other fast track devices will the British government employ to bring about the "representation of society" in the senior ranks of the policing service and what effect will this have on composition?

The issue of a police service which is "representative of the society it policies" is key. Questions in respect of 'how' and 'when' this will be achieved are entirely reasonable. There is no good reason why the British government and the new Policing Board should not supply this information.

An Phoblacht
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