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BBC NI political correspondent Martina Purdy:
"Intensive negotiations are continuing as Sinn Fein advises nationalists not to join the new force"
 real 28k

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, 22:40 GMT
Downing Street talks on NI
Prime minister again directly involved in intense negotiations
Prime minister again directly involved in intense negotiations
Prime Minister Tony Blair is to hold crisis talks with Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers at Downing Street on Wednesday.

The prime minister's spokesman said Mr Blair would meet Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon separately as part of the "ongoing contacts" in the peace process.

Social Democratic and Labour Party Leader John Hume will also be involved in the discussions, at which the policing debate is expected to be the main focus.

The talks come as nationalists continue to resist pressure on endorsing Northern Ireland's new policing arrangements and the government prepares to press ahead with a recruitment drive later this week of officers to join the new service.

Security sources revealed the advertisements would be broadcast within days for 240 new recruits.

Under the Police Act, equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant recruits must join the new service.

However, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams urged nationalists and republicans not to apply to the new service.

Gerry Adams: Recommending republicans should ignore recruitment
Gerry Adams: Recommending republicans should ignore recruitment
The West Belfast MP 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.

Mr Mallon, the deputy SDLP leader, said on Tuesday it is too early to make a final decision about the proposed new police service.

Seamus Mallon
Seamus Mallon: Too early to make final decision
He said he wanted to wait to see the outcome of the current negotiations with the government.

Ulster Unionist Leader David Trimble said it was now time for "hard decisions" to be taken on policing.

But Mr Trimble 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.

David Trimble:
David Trimble: "Time for nationalists to make decision"
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.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the Northern Ireland parties would soon have to "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.

Democratic Unionist assembly member Nigel Dodds said the current situation on policing was "a debacle".

He said: "It is time the same consideration was given by Tony Blair to the genuine worries and fears of the unionist community who do not want to see the RUC reduced to being a pawn in a wider political game."

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.

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 and have so far refused to put forward nominees to the new Police Board.

Their concerns 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:

    20 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
    NI police recruitment set to begin
    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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