[Sinn Fein]

The policing slate needs to be wiped clean

By Gerry Kelly MLA, Sinn Fein

In their joint statement 12 days ago, the two governments set out what they believed are the steps necessary to secure the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement. Their accompanying letter to the leaders of the political parties was in fact a series of commitments to achieve this goal and included a commitment by the British government to enact legislation to implement the Patten report. The IRA initiative of May 6 was a response to these specific commitments.

On Tuesday of this week the British government published its Policing Bill. It does not deliver on its commitments as outlined in their joint statement. It represents a significant departure from key recommendations of Patten including those on the name, symbols, and structures of the new policing service, human rights protection provisions and accountability.

Since partition, 80 years ago, the RUC has been the armed wing of unionism, a Protestant militia for a Protestant people. Unionist demands for a dilution of the Patten recommendations are a conscious and calculated attempt to shape the new policing service in the form of the old, an attempt to preserve the status quo.

It is no surprise that the changes sought by the unionist leadership are in or around the very issues that will make it impossible for nationalists to join a policing service in the six counties. In demanding the retention of the RUC's name and its symbols and emblems unionists seek to claim exclusive ownership of any new policing service. How often have we heard the words `our police force' from unionists in relation to the RUC. The Good Friday agreement envisaged a new beginning to policing with a new policing service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole; an inclusive rather than partisan policing service.

British secretary of state Peter Mandelson has already lent himself to the campaign by those who seek to retain or repackage the RUC. His enthusiastic tributes to the RUC seek to rehabilitate the reputation of this discredited paramilitary force and give encouragement to the pro-RUC camp. They are grossly offensive to the many victims of RUC violence and torture.

The Patten recommendations on the name, symbols and emblems of the new policing service were clear. There must be a new name and the emblems must be free from any association with the symbols of either the British or Irish state. Yet rather than deal with these key issues now the Policing Bill allows for them to be decided at some future point by the British secretary of state. There will now be a strong suspicion that Peter Mandelson may yet opt for incorporation of the name RUC into the title of the new policing service and the retention or slight modification of the existing RUC symbols and emblems.

The exemption for present members of the RUC from any requirement to take the new human rights oath if they take up their option for membership of the new policing service is also a major concern. It is also very revealing that unionists and members of the RUC have such a problem with a human rights oath. Hundreds of nationalists have suffered human rights abuses at the hands of the RUC. Many have been killed by members of the RUC. The proposed legislation opens up the prospect of human rights abusers becoming part of the new policing service.

Similar dilutions on recommendations on accountability, arrangements for local and community policing, a failure to address the issues of plastic bullets, the Special Branch and community representation in the civil service policing division and appropriate terms of reference for the new oversight commissioner all point to a major dilution of the Patten recommendations.

A failure by the British government to remain true to its commitments in the joint statement has the capacity to damage the hopes of progress.

The suspension of the institutions by the British government was a mistake. It endorsed a unionist veto over change and created a dangerous political vacuum. Recent developments have charted a course out of the political logjam. Restoring the institutions is an absolute necessity. Past mistakes must not however be replaced by new ones.

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