Hundreds protest over RUC changes

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The Independent Online
HUNDREDS OF people rallied in Belfast yesterday to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary and voice opposition to proposals for radical changes in policing in Northern Ireland.

Speakers at the Ulster Hall condemned the recent report by Chris Patten, the former governor of Hong Kong, which proposed changing the name, flag and emblems of the RUC.

Sir John Hermon, a former chief constable of the RUC, said now was not the time for fundamental changes to policing.

"The report, or any part of it, must not be pushed through the Westminster Parliament by the Secretary of State without political progress in the assembly having been achieved," he said. "If implementation is isolated from the assembly it is going to cause very serious problems."

He told the Government it would be "absolute folly to allow Sinn Fein to dictate the pace and nature of change".

Sir John Gorman, an Ulster Unionist member of the Northern Irish assembly, a Catholic and former policeman, was equally against the changes. "The reason Patten was called in was because the politicians ... could not agree about policing," he said. "Why then devolve responsibility for policing to the proposed executive?"

Vincent McKenna, a one-time republican and now director of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Bureau, said the RUC had "stood in the front line of the battle against evil".

He said the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, and the Prime Minister needed to put away the emotional nonsense and "get into the real world".

David Burnside, director of the Unionist Information Bureau in London, urged people to write directly to Tony Blair calling for the preservation of the RUC's name and its badge which, he said, represented "the most basic parity of esteem of both traditions in Northern Ireland - the harp, shamrock and crown".

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