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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
SDLP support for policing plan
Policing is a controversial issue
SDLP will "respond positively" to new policing board
The nationalist SDLP has endorsed the government's implementation plan for policing reform in Northern Ireland.

The party's decision followed support for the plan from the Irish Government and the Catholic Church.

Policing is one of the issues currently causing the impasse in the Northern Ireland political process.

The SDLP is the first party to endorse the plan - one of the most significant announcements in its 30-year history.

Sinn Fein has rejected the plan and the Ulster Unionist Party and anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist Party have yet to give their decisions.

'New beginning'

SDLP leader John Hume said at a news conference on Monday: "We have scrutinised its contents rigorously as a party, testing the plan against the detail of Patten, and the requirement of a new beginning to policing.

The SDLP will respond positively to an invitation to join the new policing board

John Hume, SDLP leader

"We now welcome that implementation plan and we will be playing our necessary part as public representatives to deliver all aspects of the plan, as part of the unfolding implementation of the two governments' package for the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement."

Mr Hume said the party would "respond positively" to an invitation to join the new policing board and would be encouraging people from all sections of the community to join the new police service.

"The creation of the new beginning for policing is best served by participation in the new service and its structures," he said.

Mr Hume also called for the IRA to immediately re-engage with General John de Chastelain's international decommissioning body.

The party also called for the publication of the Criminal Justice Implementation Plan and the setting up an implementation group to review progress on the Good Friday Agreement.

The SDLP has withheld its support for the RUC since the party was founded in 1970.

Dr Joseph Duffy:
Dr Joseph Duffy: "Proposals represent progress"
The pro-Agreement parties have been given until Tuesday to respond to a revised implementation plan published by the secretary of state John Reid last Friday.

It details changes to be made to the Royal Ulster Constabulary as it is transformed into the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Earlier on Monday, Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said his party would be campaigning to change the proposed new structures which he said would not work.

He described it as "half a loaf".

Sinn Fein has already rejected as "unacceptable" 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.

Mr McLaughlin said his party would continue to campaign against the proposals but called for a "level playing field" in the debate.

'Influencing policing'

Earlier, 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".

It 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."

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.

Mitchel McLaughlin
Mitchel McLaughlin: Rejected the plan

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

Meanwhile, the secretary of state has welcomed the Catholic Church statement on policing.

If Sinn Fein's places on the new policing board are not filled, it will mean republicans will not be represented on both the north south bodies - or the policing board.

Their seats will then go into the d'hondt system - meaning they will be filled by one Ulster Unionist and one DUP member - provided those parties sign up to the new board.

The BBC's Nick Thatcher reports
"The SDLP confirmed it would be backing the new blueprint"
SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon:
"Patten is just a theory unless both sections of the community join the new police service"
See also:

18 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
'Upbeat assessment' of policing plan
20 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
Catholic bishops back policing plan
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