Mandelson may let RUC keep its crown

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The Independent Online

Peter Mandelson offered a major concession to the Ulster Unionists yesterday, signalling that the badge of the future Northern Ireland Police Service could retain British symbols.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said he was not convinced that the badge, which currently features a crown and harp, should be scrapped. Its replacement was a key recommendation of the Patten report on RUC reform.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Mandelson said: "I have not decided what the new badge should be but I am not convinced that it need be entirely free of association with either tradition - as recommended."

The move will mean that a future badge, to be introduced in autumn 2001, could still show the crown although such moves are likely to be fiercely opposed by Sinn Fein. One of the options could be an incorporation of the George Cross into the service badge.

Mr Mandelson, who supports the Patten recommendation that the RUC should be renamed the Northern Ireland Police Service, sought to soften Unionist opposition to the change by announcing initiatives in the province to honour the name, such as an RUC memorial park and an educational bursary. He said: "I recognised the pain that changing the name would cause and I questioned whether this was really necessary ... in attracting a balance in recruits. And in the end I concluded it was."

Mr Mandelson disclosed that some Ulster Unionists had told him privately that they reluctantly accepted that a change of name was necessary. "They have expressed hope that it will be possible to find a way of commemorating the title and the service of the RUC ... I strongly agree with that view," he said.