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Saturday, 8 December, 2001, 10:10 GMT
Ban lifted on FBI training NI police
Northern Ireland police service is undergoing sweeping change
NI police service is undergoing sweeping change
US President George W Bush has lifted US government restrictions which prevented officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland training with the FBI.

A spokesman said the American government believed the changeover from the Royal Ulster Constabulary to the PSNI offered a new beginning to policing in the province.

He added that the decision to reverse the ban had followed a report from the Northern Ireland policing oversight commissioner Tom Constantine on the changes being implemented.

"We believe the PSNI does offer a new beginning to law enforcement in NI which was substantiated this week by the positive report of the Oversight Commission on Policing Reform," the spokesman said.

'Peace process contribution'

"We are pleased that co-operation and training with US law enforcement entities including the FBI will now contribute to that process of peace in Northern Ireland."

A US State Department spokesman added: "The establishment of the Police Service of Northern Ireland marks a significant milestone in the Northern Ireland peace process and provides additional tangible evidence that the Good Friday Agreement is delivering a lasting peace to the citizens of Northern Ireland," he said.

The sweeping changes to policing, which started on 4 November with the force's name change, followed recommendations on the future of policing from the Patten Commission established under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement political accord.

Mr Bush signed the documents of certification to lift the congressional restrictions on FBI training of the Northern Ireland police on Friday evening.

The US Congress voted to impose the restrictions in November 1999.

The restrictions were imposed until "appropriate progress was being made on the objectives outlined for policing in the Good Friday Agreement".

Force hit by controversy

The move will allow Police Service of Northern Ireland officers to train at the FBI's prestigious academy at Quantico in Virginia, regarded as one of the world's best training facilities for police.

Northern Ireland police officers had benefited from training schemes before the ban was put in place.

Exchange programmes, which already exist in England, Scotland and Wales, can also start between local police forces in America and the police service.

The move to remove the ban comes as the province's police service was hit by controversy over allegations from the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman of mishandling of alleged warnings given to the police before the 1998 Omagh bombing by the Real IRA.

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen TD, welcomed the lifting of the ban.

"The President and the US Government are acknowledging the considerable advances which are being made in implementing the recommendations of the Patten Report," he said.

Ulster Unionist MLA Fred Cobain:
"It think the new police service of Northern Ireland has a lot to contribute"
See also:

07 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
First meeting for Policing Board
04 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
'New era' as NI police change name
02 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Flanagan: Police will embrace change
04 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
RUC-PSNI: A serving officer's view
19 Nov 99 | Northern Ireland
Congress rules on RUC training
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