Failure to implement Agreement makes policing difficult
Article by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP
9 September 1999
Thursday's publication of the Patten report on the future of policing was important not just in itself but also because the future of policing is inextricably linked with the fate of the Good Friday agreement. It is clear that a new policing service, democratically accountable and reflecting the society which it seeks to police, is essential if the agreement is to be implemented in full and political progress achieved.
During the Patten commission's hearings nationalists and republicans made crystal clear to the commission the depth of hostility and abhorrence which exists for the RUC. Relatives of victims, some of whom had never spoken before of their grief and loss, made a stand for a new policing service.
Having gone through that process, Sinn Fein will now examine the Patten report, examine carefully its recommendations, discuss its potential - if any - and seek a balanced response which reflects the hopes, aspirations and desire for the new beginning promised by the Good Friday agreement. For many people policing, like democratic structures of government and equality, is one of those issues which lie at the very heart of conflict resolution. This was recognised in the Good Friday agreement when it stated that a ``new beginning to policing'' is required. The agreement set out clearly that a police service should be ``representative in terms of the make-up of the community as a whole'' and ``capable of attracting and sustaining'', support from all sections of society.
Does the Patten report and recommendations meet these criteria? The RUC certainly does not. The RUC is a paramilitary force and its history, behaviour, make-up and ethos make it unacceptable to nationalists and republicans. Since its establishment in 1922 the RUC has been a partisan, sectarian force politically controlled by unionists. It is the armed wing of unionism.
As a force it has been involved in shoot to kill, collusion with loyalist paramilitary groups and the harassment and torture of nationalists. The RUC has been found guilty of repeatedly violating the most basic human rights and has been indicted by human rights organisations at home and abroad.
These problems are by no means consigned to the past. In recent months we witnessed the RUC viciously assault peaceful protesters on the Ormeau Road. We have seen it stand by while loyalist gangs engage in a campaign of terror against Catholic families in Larne, Antrim and elsewhere.
We also saw the issue of collusion come to the fore once again with the RUC implicated in the death of Rosemary Nelson, and the killing of Pat Finucane. In essence, the RUC has been an integral part of the failed political entity that the Good Friday agreement was designed to transcend. Over the coming days and weeks Sinn Fein will be examining the Patten report and its recommendations very closely. We will look at it in the context of what proper policing should involve.
A policing service, like any other public service, must reflect the community that it serves. It must be accountable to, and earn the respect of that community. It should be civilised, civilianised, unarmed and accessible to the general public and should be entirely free from partisan political influence and control.
We will also examine the Patten recommendations in the context of what was promised under the terms of the Good Friday agreement and in relation to the demands and expectations of nationalists and republicans. We will be attempting to establish how far the Patten report goes towards bringing forward a democratically accountable policing service.
We will also need to discuss with the two governments, but particularly the British government, its likely response to Patten. Nationalists are mindful that to date the British government has failed to implement key sections of the Good Friday agreement which are clearly within its jurisdiction and not subject to a unionist veto.
As part of this examination we will be engaging in a wide-ranging internal discussion with party activists and supporters. We will talk to community and victim support organisations, to human rights groups and with the two governments. It is important that as many people as possible participate in this dialogue so that we can have an informed public debate on the future of policing.
The British government has set aside a period for consultation on the Patten report. Sinn Fein will be actively involved in that consultation. In due course our ardchomhairle will decide on our party position.
The coming weeks will be critical to the development of the peace process both in terms of the ongoing review and of the crucial issue of policing. Sinn Fein will approach both issues constructively. One thing is very clear: the issue of policing is made all the more difficult now because of the ongoing failure to implement other parts of the agreement.
Nationalists and republicans, like all sections of society, want and deserve a policing service which they can trust and respect and one which they can feel confident of joining.
This is not merely a question of whether Catholics should join a new policing service if such a service emerges from the Patten report. It is a question of whether republicans and nationalists, and particularly working class republicans and nationalists, would join such a policing service and have peer approval for doing so. Ultimately, this will be the acid test by which the Patten commission and its recommendations will be judged.
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