4 December 2000
Nationalists need to be careful on policing
Sinn Fein Assembly Member for North Belfast and spokesperson on Policing Gerry Kelly said:
``It is far better to keep the British Government at the drawing board until they get it right on creating the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement than to go for something fundamentally flawed that would perpetuate the disaster of the RUC, possibly under another name.
``Alongside the `institutional' storm created by David Trimble's refusal to nominate Sinn Fein ministers, the policing issue sits in the eye of another and equally critical storm. Nationalists and republicans need to approach it with cool heads.
``When the Patten Commission produced their report the British Government promised to implement it. They have not - and Peter Mandelson's completed legislation falls depressingly short of what was needed. It is well known that republicans wanted more than Patten, but listen to Clifford Shearing on the legislation when he says, `The core elements of the Patten Commission report have been undermined everywhere. The Patten Report has not been cherry picked - it has been gutted.'
``Since then, there has been a number of individuals calling on Sinn Fein and the SDLP to take their appointed seats on the Policing Board, to call on nationalists and republicans to apply to take up the other available seats, and to encourage nationalists and republicans to join the police force.
``No one who is genuine about creating a new policing service should now move in that direction. The British Government has not played its full hand on policing. And while legislation fundamentally undermines Patten, the fact is that the promised implementation plan could make the situation worse as easily as it could make it better (as the British Government and others have promised). Policing is a fundamental issue affecting every single person living in the Six Counties and throughout Ireland. To have a lasting peace settlement it has to be sorted. If not now, then sometime in the future. The wrong thing for nationalists to do is to sign any blank cheques before they see the finished product.
``Speaking to some Sinn Fein and SDLP supporters of late, I pick up a growing wariness that some parties might jump soon on the basis that the British Government has convinced them that there is no other choice or that further radical change is impossible.
``Sinn Fein stayed out of the 1996 Forum, when the SDLP jumped on, only to jump off later. The `Heads of Agreement' document was presented by the British Government to the political parties in January 1998 which substantially diluted the Framework Document of 1997. Sinn Fein refused to accept it; there were those tempted to go with it even though we were at a crucial point in the negotiations.
``Nationalists need to be careful. The policing issue needs to be above party politics and electioneering. There is a need to look at tactics on this issue. We are all fighting for and need a proper policing service despite Peter Mandelson's attempt at a fait accompli in the legislation. This is not the first time - nor will it be the last - that a British Secretary of State has got it completely wrong in Ireland. It is important to remember that when Peter Mandelson has left the issue and the people it affects here will be remaining.
``Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the Catholic Church and the Irish Government have from their separate directions come to the same conclusions as Clifford Shearing. Let none of us jump to the Mandelson drum. It is far better to keep the British Government at the drawing board until they get it right than to go for something fundamentally flawed that would perpetuate the disaster of the RUC, possibly under another name.''
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