New badges and name to put nationalists at ease

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The Independent Online

The new Police Service of Northern Ireland represents an ambitious attempt to replace the RUC with a smaller re-named force with many more Catholic officers and a new ethos based on human rights and community policing.

The transformation amounts to the greatest shake-up in policing seen in Northern Ireland, with the aims of demilitarising and civilianising its structure and its culture, and bringing more women into the ranks.

In other words, the authorities hope to bring into being a new service for the post- Troubles period.

Extensive changes have been made in the past few years under the control of Sir Ronnie Flanagan, who is retiring as Chief Constable.

Nationalist opinion has been divided over the extent of change, Sinn Fein claiming the reforms do not go far enough. But the SDLP and Catholic Church believe major changes have been made and are encouraging Catholics to join the new force.

The process has also been controversial within the Unionist community, with many Protestants expressing pain at the loss of the treasured name of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. New officers are being recruited on a 50-50 religious basis and are being trained with a new emphasis on human rights and less on a security culture.

With the new name have come new uniforms and a new badge, which has been carefully designed to include and give equal weight to competing symbols such as the crown and the harp.

There has also been increased emphasis on the need for neutrality and the need to provide a neutral working environment.

All this flows from a report drawn up by the former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, who was given the task under the Good Friday Agreement to produce a report into policing in Northern Ireland.

The aim was to create a force that would emphasise community policing, with international standards on human rights and stronger links with the community. Part of this has been put into effect by creating a new Policing Board, which includes both political representatives and independent members.

The board, which has a responsibility to maintain a general oversight on policing, has already proved surprisingly successful in resolving a number of difficult issues.