Flanagan: I will be replaced in new Ulster force

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The Independent Online

Sir Ronnie Flanagan said yesterday he expected to be replaced as head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the near future, once changes in the force are brought in under the peace process.

From midnight tomorrow the RUC will become the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the force is to be overhauled to reflect the more peaceful situation in Ulster, with a new ethos and a larger proportion of Catholics, women and civilians. The reforms follow a major report commissioned under the Good Friday Agreement.

The Chief Constable predicted that the new arrangements would make the force the "the envy of the world".

Sir Ronnie appealed for politics to be kept out of the new arrangements, and declared: "People are sick, sore and tired of the protracted nature of the political debate. It's now time to get on with the change."

But policing looks destined to remain a political issue, given that while the CatholicChurch and the nationalist SDLP have endorsed the new arrangements Sinn Fein has refused to do so. All the main parties except for Sinn Fein will have seats on a new Policing Board, which is to oversee the new service.

The first 308 recruits to the PSNI, who have been chosen on the basis that half are Protestants and half are Catholics, will begin their training within days.

A discordant note came from Jimmy Spratt, acting chairman of the police union, the Police Federation, who said he was surprised the name of the force was to change in advance of a meeting of the new Policing Board.

He said this was being done without any consultation and "did not augur well for the ability of the Policing Board to avoid politics and to concentrate on its need to provide direction to a totally accountable police service". His words are taken as reflecting a reportedly widespread fall in morale in RUC ranks.

Sir Ronnie said: "For the first time, nationalists in the form of the SDLP are in formalised policing arrangements. For the first time, the Catholic Church are encouraging and endorsing young Catholic men and women to come forward to be police officers. Of course, if there are elements of the community withholding their support, then policing cannot be as effective as it otherwise would. However, I believe their support will come."