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Saturday, 2 December, 2000, 14:02 GMT
NI policing plan 'being revised'
RUC officers in alleyway
Government urging nationalists to accept new service
Northern Ireland's deputy first minister has said he has been told that the government is revising its plan for implementing Northern Ireland police reform.

Seamus Mallon, deputy leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, has said he believes the implementation plan for the Police NI Act, passed on 21 November, is being revised to take account of his party's concerns.

Sinn Fein has rejected the Act as an acceptable framework for creating a new police service which would be acceptable to the whole community, and has said it could not encourage young republicans to join the new Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The party maintains that the government "watered down" the sweeping reforms recommended by Chris Patten as head of the Independent Commission on the Future of Policing in Northern Ireland, despite Mr Patten's endorsement of the legislation last week.

Sinn Fein has already said it will not take up its places on the new Police Board, which will oversee the changes to policing and to which the new police service will be accountable.

Despite government pressure, the SDLP had reserved judgement, saying it needed more clarity on how reform would be implemented.

'We need to be sure'

However, speaking on the BBC's Inside Politics programme on Saturday Mr Mallon said no decision would be taken by the SDLP in relation to the new police force until the party was certain of the plan's contents.

Seamus Mallon:
Seamus Mallon wants clarity on details of implementation plan
"I'm told it is being revised," he said.

"I have been given indications about what might be in it, but I want to get that revised implementation plan in my hand. I want to be able to read it and assess it and make a judgement on it.

"Spinning on this will not be sufficient. Nor will the type of unwieldy sentences with x number of double negatives in them be of any use to people.

"We are at that that stage where we want to be absolutely clear and absolutely sure."

Mr Mallon said the "easy line" which his party could have taken would have been to take up its seats on the Police Board and wait to see how the Northern Ireland Secretary would handle the controversial issues of creating the new force's flag and emblem.

If they didn't like it they could then leave.

"But that is not going to solve the policing problem," he said.

Flag and badge

Mr Mallon's comments are likely to concern unionists for whom the flag and badge of the new force are also controversial issues.

David Trimble:
David Trimble: "No further concessions on implementation"
The Ulster Unionists opposed changing the Royal Ulster Constabulary's name and were only partly satisfied by the government's promise that the RUC's title would be "enshrined in the title deeds" of the new force.

Earlier this week Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble warned nationalists against trying to negotiate further police reforms, in a speech to Conservative MPs in London.

Speaking on Tuesday he said Chris Patten's endorsement of the Act 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 policing issue is not the only issue threatening the stability of Northern Ireland's political process.

The issues of paramilitary arms and demilitarisation are also causing widening rifts between the parties in the Northern Ireland Executive.

The British and Irish Governments are currently trying to formulate a package to avert another crisis, against an unofficial deadline of about 15 December following US President Clinton's visit to the UK and Ireland from 12-14 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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