Changes to RUC `will not encourage nationalist support'

Northern Ireland's new government
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The Independent Online
PROPOSED CHANGES to policing in Northern Ireland will have little effect on the way officers are perceived by the majority of Catholics, a survey showed yesterday.

Controversial reforms, including the renaming of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, will not in themselves encourage greater support from nationalists, it was claimed. The independent survey, commissioned by the Police Authority for Northern Ireland as its submits its advice to the Government at the end of the consultation period on the reforms suggested in Chris Patten's report on the future of policing in the province, found that just 45 per cent of Catholics would be more supportive of a renamed RUC than the present organisation.

Proposals to enable district councils to levy up to 3p in the pound on rates to finance increased grass-roots policing were also treated with scepticism by the majority of the 1,200 people questioned. Both Protestants and Catholics were opposed to the prospect of being charged for community policing that is ultimately controlled by police boards containing political representatives.

Overall, the survey indicated that rather than changing "cosmetic" aspects of the service - like the name and crest - it was necessary to change attitudes among the Catholic community.

This applied especially on the issue of recruitment. Under plans submitted in the former Hong Kong governor's report, an element of "positive discrimination" would be used to ensure a "50-50" recruitment policy. While 80 per cent of Catholics and 52 per cent of Protestants were in favour of this principle, the police authority recommended that recruitment should be based on meritocratic rather than tokenist principles.

The authority chairman, Pat Armstrong, said: "We are fully committed to the need for a balanced police service which is representative of the whole community. But we are opposed on moral and practical grounds to a form of positive discrimination which would stand the principle of appointment on merit, as it is commonly understood, on its head and could lead to serious alienation in the Protestant community. We also feel it would place a burden on those Catholics joining under these arrangements who might perceive themselves as having to struggle against a `second best' label."

Mr Armstrong said his organisation broadly welcomed Mr Patten's report, which was designed to allay the fears of many nationalists that the RUC was "the armed ring of Unionism". But controversial issues should be examined with great care. He said the hurt caused by scrapping the RUC's title, emblems and oath of allegiance to the Queen should not be underestimated and since they were not, according to the survey, likely substantially to increase nationalists' support, they should be re-examined.