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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Catholic bishops back policing plan
Policing is a controversial issue
Policing is a controversial issue
The Catholic Church has given its backing to a revised plan for implementing police reform in Northern Ireland.

A statement from the northern Catholic bishops said it shared some of the reservations expressed by others, but believed "sufficient grounds now exist to give real hope for a new beginning in policing".

The pro-Agreement parties have been given until Tuesday to respond to the plan which details changes to be made to the Royal Ulster Constabulary as it is transformed into the Police Service of Northern Ireland.


We feel that the time has come to get on with it

Dr Duffy

The nationalist SDLP's assembly team are currently meeting to decide if the party will nominate representatives to the new policing board.

The meeting comes amid growing speculation that the party will give the go-ahead to the new service.

A statement from the bishops on Monday said: "We believe the time is now right for all those who sincerely want a police service that is fair, impartial and representative to grasp the opportunity that is presented and to exercise their influence to achieve such a service.

Mitchel McLaughlin
Mitchel McLaughlin: Rejected the plan

"Participation in the Policing Board and District Police Partnership Boards, while not occurring in ideal circumstances, is a significant means of continuing to influence policing and its future."

The statement welcomed the emphasis on human rights and insisted young Catholics must feel "totally free to choose" whether or not to participate in the new Policing Service.

Bishop of Clogher Dr Joseph Duffy said the bishops had intervened because they believed the overall proposals represent progress.

"We do feel that, particularly in view of the urgency of this matter, that it's dragging on a bit. We feel that the time has come to get on with it," he told BBC Radio Ulster.


We particularly welcome the emphasis on human rights in the new policing structures

Catholic bishops

He said the emphasis on human rights in the new plan was "welcome".

"It's a sign of the intent of everybody to make this thing work and to make the police force attractive to all members of the community."

Sinn Fein has already rejected the blueprint which aims to redress the gap between the current policing proposals and the 175 recommendations made by the Patten Commission nearly two years ago as "unacceptable".

Party chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said his party would be campaigning to change the new policing structures.

On Monday, Mr McLaughlin described the current proposals as "half a loaf" and said his party would be exercising its mandate against the proposals.

He added: "We have had elections recently and we will have elections in the future.

"We'll see who the nationalists and the republican community are taking leadership from."

The Ulster Unionist Party is still to make a decision on the document, published last week by secretary of state John Reid.

Alex Attwood:
Alex Attwood: "SDLP will make judgement in the round"

The SDLP has already said the government has acknowledged many of the party's concerns in the new policing implementation plan.

On Saturday the party's policing spokesperson, Alex Attwood, refused to say whether his party would sign up to the new policing board.

However, he gave an upbeat assessment of some of the changes contained in the plan.

Since the publication of the Patten report, the SDLP and Sinn Fein have refused to sign up to the new police service.

Policing is one of the issues currently causing the impasse in the Northern Ireland political process, which is threatening the future of the institutions.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Ronan Breen reports
"The statement welcomes the emphasis on human rights"
BBC NI political correspondent Martina Purdy reports
"The pressure is on for the SDLP to give its allegiance to policing"
Read BBC News Online's full special report on policing reform in Northern Ireland

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18 Aug 01 | N Ireland
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