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BBC NI's chief security correspondent Brian Rowan
"Process to bring forward the first recruits could begin within days"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 20 February, 2001, 17:47 GMT
NI police recruitment set to begin
RUC officers
New recruits could be on the street by next spring
Recruiting for Northern Ireland's new police service is expected to begin before the end of this week.

The move comes despite the refusal of Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party to give support to the new policing arrangements.

Deputy leader of the SDLP Seamus Mallon has said it is too early to make a final decision about the proposed new police service.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Mallon said he wanted to wait to see the outcome of the current negotiations with the government.

He said: "When those discussions and negotiations are over, then we will know where we are."

Seamus Mallon
Seamus Mallon: Too early to make final decision
First Minister David Trimble said it was now time for hard decisions to be taken on policing.

But the Ulster Unionist leader said the recruitment drive was being started because of operational need.

He said there was going to be "a significant need to maintain numbers within the police service" and that the calendar had driven the move as much as anything else.

Northern Ireland Security Minister Adam Ingram defended the police reforms.

Speaking at the launch of a drugs awareness campaign in Londonderry, he said all the parties needed to commit themselves to the new future for policing.

But Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said he would be urging nationalists and republicans to ignore the recruitment drive planned for the new service.

Mr Adams said: "The awaited announcement that recruitment is going to start shows the RUC chief constable is not interested in a new policing service.

"He is not recruiting for a new service, he will essentially be recruiting unionists to a slightly reformed RUC."

Mr Adams added that the British Government appeared to be about to make its "most monumental mistake" in decades by losing the opportunity to create the first policing service in the province which had the support of nationalists and republicans.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the Northern Ireland parties would soon have to "make a call" on the issue.

Speaking in the Dail Mr Ahern said his government would make its position known within the next couple of days, but he believed there was "90% plus" agreement on the outstanding issues.

Recruiting

Political sources have said the only alternative to starting recruiting would be to deploy soldiers on the streets.

About 500 police officers are expected to quit the RUC next month as part of the severance arrangements negotiated after the Patten report on the future of policing in Northern Ireland.

Financial provisions are in place for a further 750 officers to leave the force over the next 12 months. A start to recruitment now would see the new officers on the streets by next spring.

It is expected that Protestants and Catholics would be recruited on a 50/50 basis. Protestants currently make up 92% of the RUC.

Negotiations continue

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair is to hold more talks with the first and deputy first ministers, at Downing Street on Wednesday morning.

The political parties remain deadlocked over the interlocking issues of policing, disarmament and demilitarisation, despite ongoing intense negotiations with the British and Irish governments.

On policing the SDLP and Sinn Fein say there is still a "gap" between what was proposed in the Patten report and what the British Government has put forward.

The SDLP is under pressure to endorse the policing reforms.

Unionists and the government want the party to join the Police Board to which the new Police Service of Northern Ireland will be accountable.

However, the SDLP has refused to do so until it receives assurances from the government on a number of elements of the reform programme.

These include:

  • plans for the phasing out of the full-time police reserve
  • future of the RUC Special Branch
  • name of the new service
  • police badge
  • flags over police stations
  • independent inquiries into a number of controversial killings.
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    See also:

    16 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
    Flanagan move to close policing 'gap'
    03 Nov 99 | Northern Ireland
    Concern over plan to close RUC stations
    20 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
    Body urges Police Bill rethink
    13 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
    Police recruitment campaign delayed
    14 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
    Gaps remain in policing, says SDLP
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