23 February 2001
Resolution of the outstanding concerns requires unity of purpose Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness MP, speaking at the Irish Times Debate Final in University College Dublin this evening said:
When the people of Ireland endorsed the Good Friday Agreement they did so in the belief that it would be a charter for change and that a range of measures including, for example, the equality agenda and a new beginning to Policing would be delivered. The policing issue was always a touchstone issue. For nationalists and republicans in the North it is as big an issue as the Treaty was in its time in the South. What does the Good Friday Agreement say on Policing?
The Good Friday Agreement stated that;
``...policing structures and arrangements are such that the police service is professional, effective and efficient, fair and impartial, free from partisan political control; accountable, both under the law for its actions and to the community it serves; representative of the society it policies, and operates within a coherent and co-operative criminal justice system, which conforms with human rights norms.''
The referendum also endorsed the terms of reference for the Patten Commission. This included that its recommendations on policing ``should be designed to ensure that policing arrangements, including composition, recruitment, training, culture, ethos and symbols, are such that in a new approach... a police service.. can enjoy widespread support from, and is seen as an integral part of, the community as a whole.''
This is what the two Governments and the pro-Agreement parties signed up to.
Patten delivered as instructed. Sinn Fein wanted more. Yet we are prepared to work with it on the basis that if implemented in full it could provide a threshold position on which to build a new civic policing service. This goal can still be achieved. However since May of last year all of our time has been spent trying to get the British Government to go back to the recommendation of a commission which they appointed in line with the recommendations of the Good Friday Agreement.
Indeed in the Guardian on 16th November at the close of the legislative processing of the British Government's ``Police Act'' by Clifford Sheering, an independent member of the Patten Commission said;
``The core elements of the Patten commission's report have been undermined everywhere. The district policing partnership boards that are so vital to the Patten commission's vision have been diluted. So have its recommendations in the key areas outlined in its terms of reference - composition, recruitment, culture, ethos and symbols. The Patten report has not been cherry picked - it has been gutted.
``The bill does not fulfil the hopes and vision of the Belfast agreement. Nor does it satisfy the very clear mandate set out in the commission's terms of reference. It is not a new beginning. It will not serve the people of Northern Ireland..''
Despite the best efforts of the securocrats - there has been some progress since May. Some progress but not enough. The gap between the British Government's proposals for the RUC and the Patten recommendations on policing remain significant.
The progress to date has come about because of the combined efforts of Irish nationalist, republican, Catholic and democratic opinion and the attention of friends of peace in Ireland in the United States. The pursuit of that objective, the centrality to society of the policing issue, and the resolution of the outstanding concerns requires the same unity of purpose.
An acceptable, representative civic policing service is both necessary and achievable.
I am prepared to go to the Sinn Fein Ard Chomairle and propose the nomination of Sinn Fein members to the Board of such a new policing service. This will present a huge challenge for republicans, but it is one we are prepared to face.
Todays Irish Times quotes Irish Government sources suggesting that Sinn Fein is under pressure to accept less than what we are seeking.
In other recent reports Irish government sources have also been quoted accusing Sinn Fein of not wanting to reach an agreement, and of seeking to `rub the British Governments nose' in any failure to achieve a deal.
All of this is unhelpful.
Sinn Fein wants a positive outcome to these negotiations on policing, on demilitarisation, on the issue of weapons and on the permanency of the institutions. We want to get it right. We believe we can get it right.
The Irish government knows the work our party has put in on this issue. The government has been central to this. It has to persist. It has to be tenacious and dogged.
The Taoiseach in May of last year made clear that what is required is
`` a police service that is fully effective and representative. The achievement of this objective is absolutely necessary to peace...''
He went on to say
``The Irish Government ... remains completely committed to the view that full and effective implementation of the Patten recommendations is the only way in which the report's vision of an acceptable and representative service can be delivered.''
That is Sinn Fein's view.
Let all of us who share a common vision on policing and other matters stick together. Let us stay the course.
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