Mowlam will ban former paramilitaries from RUC

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The Independent Online
SINN FEIN and Ulster Unionists last night separately agreed to take part in a new round of peace talks chaired by Senator George Mitchell, boosting the effort to revive the Good Friday Agreement. The crucial review aimed at restarting the faltering peace process starts tomorrow.

Their decision came as the Northern Ireland Secretary told the Independent on Sunday she intends to ban former IRA members and loyalist paramilitaries from joining the new Royal Ulster Constabulary.

She said that "putting paramilitaries in charge of local law enforcement would be insane - and wrong". Until now people with links to paramilitary groups have not been explicitly ruled out from jobs with the new police force.

Dr Mowlam said: "I have no doubt ... that fears over changes to the RUC are integral to Unionist concerns about where the peace process is going. They have talked of their fears that, in the future, Northern Ireland will become a 'mafia state' with paramilitaries influencing the decisions of the Northern Ireland government and the police."

She insisted the new RUC would have to be "a normal force like any other". She said: "The police must be capable of maintaining law and order and responding effectively to crime and to any terrorist threat and public order problems."

Her remarks come on the eve of the publication of Chris Patten's report on the future of policing in Northern Ireland. Dr Mowlam said there would be "difficulties when all sides see the proposals [for the RUC]". But she promised that RUC officers who lose their jobs will get compensation and "be dealt with generously and sympathetically".

Mr Patten's proposals include 200 recommendations for the reform of the Protestant-dominated RUC. He rejects republican calls for the abolition of the police force, but it may be renamed and reduced significantly in numbers.

Last night, a leading politician with links to the loyalist paramilitaries warned that Northern Ireland was heading for a "short, sharp, awful war" between paramilitaries and the armed drug dealers who have encroached on their territory during the ceasefire.

David Ervine, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, which has close links with the Ulster Volunteer Force, said the desire to be seen to be part of the political peace process had stopped loyalists from acting against drugs gangs. If Senator Mitchell's review fails to take the peace talks forward, and the paramilitaries no longer feel they have to be seen to have given up violence, they would act fast to drive out the dealers.

Some loyalist organisations were themselves "heavily wedded" to drugs, he said, raising the spectre of a fierce internal war between them. "They are more of a problem against the backdrop of ceasefire than they were prior to it. It's a fairly dangerous thing to give two fingers to the paramilitary organisations, but they're doing it."