Defer reform of RUC for now, urges Trimble

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The Independent Online

David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, urged the Government yesterday to defer implementing reform of the Royal Ulster Constabulary until the security situation in Northern Ireland has improved.

Mr Trimble, attacking the proposals in the Patten report during a debate on the matter, said the recommendations were "flawed and shoddy".

But Peter Mandelson, the Northern Ireland Secretary, defended the findings, stressing: "These reforms are emphatically not an attack on the RUC. They are not about disbanding the RUC. Those who advocated that course lost the argument. The RUC has provided a first class service to the people of Northern Ireland and it continues to do so. That has not changed. But the world and Northern Ireland is changing, quite dramatically, and we must prepare and equip the RUC to embrace that change."

The Patten Commission proposed the most fundamental reform of the RUC in its 78-year history, including renaming it the Police Service of Northern Ireland and scrapping the crown and harp cap badge.

Mr Trimble said that instead of bringing forward proposals that would encourage widespread support for the police, the commission had discouraged it with a "total lack of recognition of the service and sacrifice of police officers".

No rational argument had been put forward for the change of title, he said. "It has also discouraged widespread support through the change it proposes should be made to the RUC badge. Again, no evidence or argument is given for discarding symbols that are inclusive." He said that the "grievous insult of removing the force's royal title and symbols" had added to the pain.

There were high levels of confidence in the police and problems were exaggerated and exacerbated by political attitudes. "The politics that needs to be taken out of policing is the politics which is basically agitation and hostile propaganda against the police. If we had a more responsible attitude by nationalist politicians it would do much more than everything there is in Patten," he said.

"And without such a responsible attitude, Patten is a waste of time, which will have caused needless hurt to many and serious harm to policing."

Mr Trimble said that with the refusal of the paramilitaries to disarm and disband, the province was in danger of "slipping backwards", and it was "clearly wrong to press on with such security sensitive changes in this situation".

At a news conference in Westminster earlier, Mitchel McLaughlin, the Sinn Fein chairman, said it was unlikely that there would be any legislation to implement the Patten report in this Parliament. "We are in for 12 months debate and we will not see a change of policing on our streets," he said. "We can see rejectionists have plenty of opportunity to snarl that process."

Speaking during the debate, Andrew Mackay, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, paid tribute to the RUC. "I believe, during the last 30 years of troubles, that the RUC have been that thin green line in the province between the rule of law and the province falling into anarchy," he said.

The Patten proposals offered an "interesting and helpful" basis for what policing in Northern Ireland could be like in future - but only once there was no terrorist threat.

On the proposed name change, the Tories refused to support the Government when the relevant legislation was introduced. Mr Mackay said: "Such a recommendation to scrap the name of the RUC will create considerable grief and pain in one community without much consequent gain in the other community."

It was "decidedly premature" to introduce some of the recommendations in the report that were security sensitive. "We really do not think they should be incorporated in the legislation at this stage."