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Tuesday, 28 November, 2000, 13:21 GMT
Patten 'supports' NI Police Act

Sinn Fein do not want nationalists to join the new force
The head of the commission which recommended controversial change to Northern Ireland's police force has given his support to the reforming legislation drawn up by the government.

EU Commissioner Chris Patten headed the Independent Commission on the Future of Policing in Northern Ireland which issued a report last year recommending sweeping change to policing.

The former Hong Kong governor's report was published after a widespread consultation process.

Republicans have rejected the Police NI Act passed in Westminster last week as an unacceptable blueprint for a new police service, which would be acceptable to the nationalist community.

Nationalist politicians also feel that the legislation "diluted" the Patten report and that the Act does not follow the "spirit" of the report.

Chris Patten has lent his support to the policing legislation
Chris Patten has lent his support to the policing legislation
Sinn Fein has said that it could not recommend that young nationalists should join the new Police Service of Northern Ireland when recruiting starts in April.

Unionists have opposed changing the RUC's name and have been only partly satisfied by the government's promise that the Royal Ulster Constabulary's title will be "enshrined in the title deeds" of the new force.

The controversial issue of the badge of the police service is still under debate.

But writing in Tuesday evening's Belfast Telegraph newspaper, Chris Patten said the legislation was a "faithful implementation of the report" and urged young nationalists to join the new force.

He said he had been dismayed by the implementation debate which had focussed so much on politics and in particular the politically charged issues of name, symbols and flags.

He said he resisted the invitation to speak out on the policing issue because he did not think it was appropriate to get involved in the political wrangling.

However, he said he now wanted to make the point that much that had been written and said about "what Patten intended" was "misleadingly selective or just plain wrong".

Mr Patten said the whole point of the report was that it was not political, but the work of an independent group.

'Encourage young people'

On the badge he said if the Northern Ireland Assembly managed to agree on an emblem for the assembly they could do it for the police.

He said political parties and other community leaders should now be working to get their representatives on to the Policing Board and the District Policing Partnerships and should now start to encourage young people from all parts of the Northern Ireland community to apply to join the police.

"With the policing bill now becoming law, it is time to get back to the future, to look beyond old political arguments and towards building new policing arrangements for Northern Ireland which are second to none in the world.

"That is the spirit of Patten and it is now within reach," he said.

Chris Patten's support for the Police Act will come as a relief to the government.

Northern Ireland Secretary
Peter Mandelson: Not good relationship with Sinn Fein
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson had predicted that Mr Patten would support the government's interpretation of the report.

Welcoming Mr Patten's comments, Mr Mandelson said everyone should now support the new police service and not become involved in the politics of boycott.

"The politics of boycott did not bring the Good Friday Agreement and it won't bring the new police service," he said.

In Londonderry on Tuesday afternoon Sinn Fein supporters staged a protest in against the Mr Mandelson's handling of the policing issue.

The city's Sinn Fein mayor, Cathal Crumley, and other party councillors snubbed a meeting with the Northern Ireland Secretary at the council's offices.

Mr Mandelson was heckled as he made his way past protestors to meet councillors from other political parties.

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See also:

24 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Catholics urged to join NI police
24 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein rebuke for police service
24 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Support urged for police act
22 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Government forces through NI bill
21 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
NI Police Bill to become law
17 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
SDLP call over Policing Bill
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