Patten accused of 'ghastly blunder' over RUC report

Click to follow
The Independent Online

THE PATTEN Commission produced a blueprint yesterday to transform the Royal Ulster Constabulary into a renamed force with many more Catholic officers and a new ethos based on human rights and community policing.

THE PATTEN Commission produced a blueprint yesterday to transform the Royal Ulster Constabulary into a renamed force with many more Catholic officers and a new ethos based on human rights and community policing.

Its 175 proposals amount to the greatest shake-up in the RUC's 77-year history, restyling it the Northern Ireland Police Service and aiming to demilitarise and civilianise its structure and its culture.

Although the report found favour with constitutional nationalists it produced an angry response from Unionist politicians and complaints from within the force itself, particularly over the name change.

The charge was led by the Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble, who described it as the shoddiest piece of work he had seen in his public life. Proposals to change the force's name, oath and symbol were "a gratuitous insult" to those who had served in the RUC. He added: "I think Patten has made a ghastly blunder."

Tony Blair welcomed the report but said he recognised that some of the recommendations "will of course be difficult for the men and women who have devoted their lives to the RUC". Describing the report as setting the highest international standards for policing, he said that change, properly done, could bring benefits to the police and public alike.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan, Chief Constable of the RUC, said many of the proposals would improve policing, but acknowledged the hurt that some measures, including the name change, would cause. He said: "Can Patten bring about that support which has previously been absent without alienating that which has always been present? If that hurt brings about the true new beginning that Patten envisages, then perhaps, the pain has to be endured by us."

The report suggests the reduction of the force's strength in the light of the general reduction of violence. To increase the proportion of Catholics from the present 8 per cent, it proposes generous pay-offs to encourage many existing officers to retire early. It further suggests that over the next 10 years Protestants and Catholics should be recruited on a 50- 50 basis. More immediately, it says, a thousand new part-time Catholic reservists should be hired.

The report also proposes taking the police out of their present strict security context and setting up a web of links with the public and the new political system envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.

Ten of the 19 members of a new Policing Board would be politicians from the Northern Ireland Assembly, appointed under a system that would mean two were members of Sinn Fein. In addition, the police would have strong new links to the 26 district councils.

The former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, who headed the commission set up under the Good Friday Agreement, said: "There is pain in what we are saying, but I would also argue that there is a gain which more than makes up for that. I think it is vitally important that everybody looks to the future, however difficult that may be, and for everybody in the nationalist, Catholic and republican community to accept it is time to support policing if we want a stable and peaceful future."

Mr Trimble said he had particular concerns about proposals involving the Special Branch. "The RUC Special Branch is at the front line of defence of the entire British Isles ... The emasculation of Special Branch is the thing over and above everything else that the republican movement wants. We fear that Patten has given that to them."

Mr Patten said he had not proposed taking away Special Branch but had agreed with the Chief Constable that it should be jointly controlled with CID.

Comments