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Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 09:08 GMT
Patten backing fuels police debate
Chris Patten urged young nationalists to join new service
Chris Patten urged young nationalists to join new service
The decision of Northern Ireland police reform architect Chris Patten to support the NI Police Act has stirred up further controversy on policing.

Writing in a Belfast newspaper on Tuesday, EU Commissioner Chris Patten said the legislation framed by the government was a "faithful implementation of the report" by the Independent Commission on the Future of Policing, which he headed.

Mr Patten appealed to all sections of the community to encourage young people to join the new Police Service of Northern Ireland, which will begin recruiting in April.

Republicans have so far rejected the Police Act as having "watered down" the Patten report - both in "spirit" and substance.

Sinn Fein has said it will not take up its places on the Police Board to which the new police service will be accountable.

The Social Democratic and Labour Party has said that it needs more certainty on how reform will be implemented before it would encourage young nationalists to join the new force.

David Trimble:
David Trimble: "No further concessions on implementation"
But following Mr Patten's endorsement of the legislation passed in Westminister last week, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble warned nationalists against trying to negotiate further police reforms, in a speech to Conservative MPs in London on Tuesday night.

He said Mr Patten's comments showed that nationalists should stop attempting to lobby for changes to the government's implementation plan.

The Northern Ireland First Minister said: "I hope that discussion of the new implementation plan will not be used as an opportunity to score points or begin a negotiation.

"Rather, I hope these politicians follow the lead which has been given."

The Ulster Unionists have opposed changing the Royal Ulster Constabulary's name and have been only partly satisfied by the government's promise that the RUC'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 Mr Trimble said: "The top priority must be that Northern Ireland has an effective police service."

His comments were echoed by Ulster Unionist Culture and Arts Minister Michael McGimpsey on Wednesday.

He said: "The SDLP cannot prevaricate any longer. It must take its seats on the Police Board, the District Policing Partnerships and encourage young nationalists to join.

"The SDLP cannot defer this decision any longer."

Northern Ireland Secretary
Peter Mandelson: Further pressure on nationalists
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson put further pressure on the SDLP to break from Sinn Fein and agree to participate in the Police Board, following Mr Patten's appeal.

"Let's get everyone involved, assuming their responsibilities, to create the new Police Service of Northern Ireland and leave the politicking behind us once and for all," he said.

"It is not my place to tell the SDLP when they should make up their minds.

"All I would say is that the politics of boycott did not bring us the Good Friday Agreement and it won't bring us the new police service that we want to create in Northern Ireland either."

SDLP policing spokesman
Alex Attwood: "More work needed to convince nationalists of new beginning"
But SDLP policing spokesman Alex Attwood said that although his party wanted to nominate people to the Police Board, more work was needed to be done to convince people that the Police Act represented a new beginning to policing.

Stressing the importance of the government's implementation plan for the Act, he said: "The SDLP has said many times that the community wishes to claim the policing prize.

"Some now suggest it is within reach, others that it is now gone."

Alex Maskey:
Alex Maskey: "The Patten report has been gutted"
Sinn Fein gave Mr Patten's article a hostile response.

Party chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said the former Hong Kong governor was speaking "at the behest" of the Northern Ireland Office "clearly to a prepared script".

Sinn Fein assembly member Alex Maskey said he was "disappointed" by the article.

"At the launch of the Independent Commission's report last year, he categorically counselled against the `cherry-picking' of its recommendations which he stated need `to be implemented comprehensively'," Mr Maskey said.

"But as the independent Patten Commissioner, Clifford Shearing pointed out recently the Patten Report has not been cherry-picked, it has been gutted."

Mr Patten's article was published as First and Deputy First Ministers David Trimble and Seamus Mallon expressed hope that the province's parties would use President Clinton's visit in December as a "target date" to resolve their differences.

The paramilitary arms issue is still threatening to destabilise the politcal process.

The British and Irish Governments are currently trying to formulate a package to avert another crisis, against an unofficial deadline of about 15 December.

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See also:

28 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Patten 'supports' NI Police Act
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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