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Friday, 21 September, 2001, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
Unionists sign up to Police Board
Policing issue has been deeply divisive between parties
Policing issue has been deeply divisive between parties
Northern Ireland's two main unionist parties have endorsed the changes to the province's police service by signing up to the new Police Board.

The Ulster Unionist Party and Democratic Unionist Party agreed to nominate their representatives to the board, which will oversee the new Police Service of Northern Ireland, by the Thursday midnight deadline.

Following several hours of talks with Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid on Thursday evening, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley and said their parties would nominate members to the board.

Mr Paisley's announcement followed David Trimble's, but he denied that his party was using Mr Trimble's decision as "cover".

Ulster Unionist leader
David Trimble: "We do accept the Patten report"
The DUP leader said he had had no alternative but to sign up, or unionist control of the board would have been lost.

"I'm not going to hand over seats to the enemies of Ulster," he said.

He criticised the Ulster Unionists for their "lack of resolve" and said more could have been achieved if the two unionist parties had remained outside the Police Board.

He said it would be "disastrous" if the plans went ahead to disband the RUC full time reserve, leaving inexperienced recruits to deal with the security situation.

Mr Trimble said "significant progress" had been made in his negotiations with Dr Reid over the past few weeks.

Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley: "Disbanding full-time reserve would be disaster"
"We recognise that at this stage, taking our places on the board gives us the best opportunity to exercise the greatest influence over the future of policing in Northern Ireland," he said.

He added that there was a "powerful symbolism" in the picture of the UUP, DUP and SDLP inside the board and Sinn Fein, outside.

He said he hoped the DUP would realise this and adopt a more "responsible" approach to the political process.

'Not bound by Patten'

But he said his party's nominees would not be bound by the government's implementation plan for policing or the Patten report on which the new service has been modelled.

He said the party considered both the report and the plan to implement the Northern Ireland Police Act "to be a clear threat to good policing".

He said the party's nominees would focus on issues such as the police badge and flag, the appointments of senior police officers and independent members of the new district police partnerships.

Northern Ireland secretary
John Reid: "Momentus step"
However, the decision has come as a boost to Dr Reid's efforts to get Northern Ireland's political process back on the rails as the province faces another deadline for progress at midnight on Saturday.

By that time Dr Reid must decide how to prevent the collapse of the Stormont government.

He is expected to suspend the assembly for short time, which will trigger another six-week period in which attempts to hammer out a deal on the other issues still blocking the process can continue.

The issue of IRA decommissioning remains the main stumbling block, but Dr Reid said the move on policing by the two main unionist parties was a "a momentous step forward".

Speaking on Radio Ulster, he said the decisions by the SDLP, UUP and DUP to sign up to the Police Board had made the last six weeks of attempts to get progress "worthwhile".

The SDLP declared said it would take its seats on the board some weeks ago.

Eddie McGrady:
Eddie McGrady: "Sinn Fein is left isolated"
The four largest parties all have the right to nominate members - 10 in total - to the 19-member board, which will have the power to hold the chief constable to account.

Sinn Fein is the only party entitled to seats which has withheld its support.

One of the SDLP's nominees, South Down MP Eddie McGrady, said Sinn Fein had now been left isolated in their rejection of the new policing arrangements.

But Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin said the Ulster Unionist leader remained determined to block the creation of a representative police service.

"David Trimble' intends to ensure there is no change, that the police continues to be unionist dominated," he said.

Nominees

The Ulster Unionist Party's three nominees are John Taylor (now Lord Kilclooney), and assembly members Fred Cobain and James Leslie.

The DUP's nominees are assembly members Ian Paisley junior and Sammy Wilson.

The SDLP has nominated its chairman and policing spokesman Alex Attwood, Eddie McGrady and West Tyrone assembly member Joe Byrne.

The interviews to select the nine independent members who will sit on the board were completed on Wednesday.

The first batch of between 260-300 Police Service of Northern Ireland trainees - selected on a 50% Catholic 50% Protestant basis - will begin training in October and be on the streets by spring 2002.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Greg Mylam
"For the Secretary of State, this is something, at last, to celebrate"
Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid
"It is hugely significant"
See also:

21 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Assembly suspension looms
18 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Paisley holding back on policing
19 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Targets on policing change published
18 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
'Upbeat assessment' of policing plan
12 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Police recruitment 'will be 50:50'
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