Patten fury at loyalist smears

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The Independent Online
CHRIS PATTEN accused hardline Ulster Unionists yesterday of trying to sabotage his proposals for a sweeping shake-up of the Royal Ulster Constabulary which could jeopardise hopes of kickstarting the stalled Irish peace process.

The former Tory minister attacked "smears" and inaccurate advance leaks of his recommendations, which have provoked a storm of protest from Unionists. British ministers are worried that the furore over the Patten proposals may scupper the review of the Good Friday Agreement, which begins on Monday.

An angry Mr Patten dismissed as "a complete and total fabrication" suggestions that his review would allow paramilitary groups to take over policing in some areas. Unionists have claimed the report would lead to "IRA men in police uniform".

Mr Patten, vice-president designate of the European Commission, will publish next Thursday almost 200 recommendations for reforming the Protestant- dominated RUC. He is furious because his eight-strong commission has produced a much more balanced package than press speculation has suggested. Some people, he said, "have very clearly been involved in the business of trying to create a very difficult political atmosphere for our report, and I wholly deplore that."

Urging Unionists to accept that RUC reform was needed as part of a political settlement for Ulster, he said his commission's shake-up would sooner or later "have to be faced up to by leaders of political society".

The Independent understands that Mr Patten has rejected Republican demands for the total abolition of the RUC and for the creation of an all-Ireland force with the Irish Republic's Garda. The 13,000-strong force may be renamed and reduced to about 8,000 if security allows. But Mr Patten is expected to dash Republican hopes that many Protestant officers will be forced out to make room for more Catholics and women. "There is no way people are going to have apply for their own jobs," one source said last night. "We are not going to dismantle the RUC."

Portraits of the Queen will no longer be displayed at police stations. The oath of allegiance to the monarch has already been dropped.

Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, will seek to implement some of Mr Patten's less controversial proposals swiftly but will accept that the more sensitive changes will take years to bring in. However, she will insist that sweeping reforms are needed to ensure "an effective and representative" force.

Mr Patten's attempt to quash speculation about his report reflected the Government's anxiety that its timing could further harm the prospects Good Friday Agreement's review by the former US senator George Mitchell.

Mr Patten's drive appeared to cut little ice with David Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. He said: "We understand that Patten is saying `we're not dismantling the RUC' . Frankly, that's not true."

Mr Trimble said the proposed changes would amount to "a clear repudiation of the existing force." Interviewed in the New Statesman, Mr Trimble said Mr Patten had been "mugged" by "a cabal of three or four members" of the commission during the final stages of preparing the report.

He insisted the report, and a separate review by the Northern Ireland Office, could lead to paramilitaries taking over both policing and judicial functions, which was "a ghastly prospect".

William Hague continued his war of words with Tony Blair over Northern Ireland last night. In a letter to the Prime Minister, he denied seeking to undermine the peace process, telling Mr Blair: "Nothing could be further from the truth and the charge is unworthy of you and your office."

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