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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 21 August, 2002, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Nationalism 'split on policing'
PSNI officers on patrol
The first police service recruits graduated in April

Stop reading if you've heard this one before - Sinn Fein will soon sign up to the Policing Board.

The SDLP jumped first, and Sinn Fein will follow - albeit after a few 'tweaks' to the existing arrangements, so that Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams can explain why he did not support the new police service from the outset.

So watch out for Sinn Fein signing up, probably just after the next assembly election.

It would fit neatly with the theory frequently aired by SDLP leader Mark Durkan that anyone wanting to gaze into a crystal ball to predict future Sinn Fein policy, only need look at the present SDLP policy to see what it is going to be.

The uniform carries the service's new badge
Cross-community symbol was thought to be "mission impossible"

In the past 12 months, barely a week has gone by without some whispers, winks or nudges about Gerry Adams edging towards support for the new police service.

It all sounds so simple. With Sinn Fein supporting the police, and working side-by-side on the 19-member Policing Board with unionists and the SDLP, how much better the political - and security - climate is going to be.

Local politics

However, the situation is anything but simple - it is dogged by complications, confrontations and controversies.

Just look at some of the things which have happened in the past year - sectarian murders, interface violence in Belfast, the Castlereagh break-in and an attack on a Catholic police recruit by dissident republicans.

There was also the public row between the Police Ombudsman and the former Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan over the Omagh bomb investigation, and a political dispute over the appointment of new Chief Constable Hugh Orde.

The result has been a year in which the job of being an SDLP member of the Policing Board has been one of the most difficult in local politics.


Sinn Fein say the existing structures fail to match the recommendations laid out in the independent report on policing drawn up by Chris Patten

But no one said it would be easy. And even without some of the incidents listed above, Alex Attwood and his fellow board members always knew that it would be a year of constant criticism from Sinn Fein.

As far as republicans are concerned, the SDLP "lost their nerve" this time last year.

They should have stayed off the board and held out for more accountable policing arrangements, says Sinn Fein.

It says the existing structures fail to match the recommendations laid out in the independent report on policing drawn up by the former Hong Kong governor, Chris Patten.

'Public disputes'

Rubbish, say the SDLP. They point to 90 changes to the government's Police Bill and the implementation plan which brought the new arrangements into line with the letter - and the spirit - of the Patten Report.

Not true, say Sinn Fein. The SDLP only put through six amendments to the Police Bill, and they still fell short of what was envisaged by Chris Patten.

SDLP's Alex Attwood: Board member
SDLP's Alex Attwood: Board member

The SDLP point to the fact that in spite of some very public disputes, Policing Board members have worked better together than many people predicted.

Indeed, one of their first decisions was to agree on a cross-community symbol - a task many believed was the equivalent of "mission impossible".

The first batch of new police recruits have come through their training and the number of Catholic police officers is steadily rising.

But according to Sinn Fein, "real nationalists" are still not interested in joining up.

And so the arguments go on, and on.

The question is - which party has got it right? In other words, which party reflects the real mood of the nationalist people?

The answer may come at the next assembly election, when the SDLP and Sinn Fein go head-to-head in the battle for votes.

Or perhaps we know the answer already, that the nationalist people - like their politicians - are split on the issue.

Read BBC News Online's full special report on policing reform in Northern Ireland

Key stories

Background

OTHER SPECIAL REPORTS
See also:

29 Jul 02 | N Ireland
05 Apr 02 | N Ireland
05 Apr 02 | N Ireland
27 Mar 02 | N Ireland
12 Sep 01 | N Ireland
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