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Ulster Unionist trade minister Sir Reg Empey
Ulster Unionists have taken leap of faith into government with republicans
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SDLP finance minister Mark Durkan
"Our position is nothing to do with public relations - we must get policing right"
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Sunday, 14 January, 2001, 00:22 GMT
Mandelson claim angers SDLP
RUC officers on patrol in Belfast
The proposed RUC reforms have sparked much debate
The leader of the nationalist SDLP has reacted angrily to suggestions his party's refusal to endorse police reforms is driven by electoral considerations.

John Hume described as offensive the claim by Secretary of State Peter Mandelson earlier this week.

SDLP leader John Hume
John Hume: Offended by Peter Mandelson remark
Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein have refused to nominate representatives to sit on the Police Board which is to oversee the reformed service.

They believe the government has diluted reforms recommended by the Independent Commission on Policing headed by Chris Patten on issues such as emblems, the Special Branch and the secretary of state's powers to halt inquiries.

Mr Hume said he was appalled at the suggestion that the SDLP was refusing to nominate representatives to the Police Board because of the threat of Sinn Fein overtaking it as largest nationalist party in the forthcoming general election.

Mandelson plea

Mr Hume's comments were in response to Mr Mandelson's appeal to the SDLP "not to torpedo the peace process by delaying the police reforms" in the Police Act.

On Tuesday, Mr Mandelson said: "I think it would be terrible if at this stage, for the sake of some relatively small issues on which we have yet to get clarity - but will do so - or for the sake of politics and a shadow of an upcoming election, we were to let this enormous prize slip from out grasp now."

Mr Hume said on Sunday: "The line being peddled to newspapers by those who oppose our views holds absolutely no water whatsoever".

He said the SDLP would not hesitate in going to the people of Northern Ireland to say "this policing service will work to all our benefit" - but only when it believed this was so.

Anyone who believed otherwise was wrong "or deliberately trying to misrepresent us for their own political gain".

"We will use our own judgement, and no other criteria in order to arrive at that conclusion," he said.

'Double standards' accusation

On Saturday, the Ulster Unionist trade minister, Sir Reg Empey, had accused the SDLP of having double standards on the issue of the policing issue.

Sir Reg said his party had gone into government with fewer assurances on decommissioning than the SDLP has on policing.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, Sir Reg described the SDLP as the party which had urged Ulster Unionists to go into government with republicans but was now standing at the edge of the swimming pool, "afraid to put their toe in the water".

"The SDLP was the party which told us you have to go into government, take the leap of faith, go into government with republicans and you will be surprised at the response that you will receive.

"We jumped twice, three times."

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams called on the government to bring in amending legislation to bridge the gap between "minimum threshold" of the Patten recommendations and the Police NI Act which became law in November.

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