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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 September 2005, 05:48 GMT 06:48 UK
Police reform 'needs new support'
Al Hutchinson
Al Hutchinson said there was a 'democratic deficit'
Lack of political backing for police reforms in Northern Ireland is holding back progress, a watchdog has warned.

Oversight Commissioner Al Hutchinson said 114 of the Patten report's 175 recommendations had been completed.

He also warned that loyalist rioting in Belfast earlier this month proved some were still opposed to the changes.

Although he did not single out Sinn Fein, which has yet to endorse the reformed PSNI, he said "politics has failed policing in Northern Ireland".

"This is a general observation rather than a statement directed at any specific political group or individual, and simply points out a fact which has substantial consequences for the necessary reforms to policing.

"Coupled with a lack of acceptance, in some quarters, of the individual and societal responsibilities that accompany expected rights, the current democratic deficit creates the risk of either undermining or stagnating efforts to create a widely accepted, human rights-based, accountable policing service.

I have no doubt that judging by past achievements and current efforts, the new beginning for policing will become a reality despite the efforts of those guided by their own narrow agendas
Al Hutchinson
Oversight commissioner
"A return to an embattled, fortressed police service is the goal of only a few.

"I know that the police do not want this, and I remain convinced that the majority of people in Northern Ireland do not want this either."

The Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, also known as the Patten Commission, was set up after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 to develop a framework for a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the whole community.

Mr Hutchinson is an independent figure charged with overseeing the implementation of the Patten report's 175 recommendations.

He said the situation was being helped by all of the main policing institutions: the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Policing Board which holds Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde to account, the District Policing Partnerships and Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan.

The Oversight Commissioner said that any lack of progress on the 61 remaining recommendations could not be blamed on reluctance or inability within these agencies.

"Far more the fact that even at this advanced stage of policing change the full community and political support which would complete this crucial process is still being withheld," he said.

"This is both illogical and shortsighted."

Mr Hutchinson said loyalist riots sparked by a re-routed Orange Order parade in Belfast earlier this month was in contrast to the many significant policing advancements, comparing the violence to that of Northern Ireland's darkest days.

"If nothing else, the unfortunate events of early September serve to highlight and test the crucial role that accountability structures will play in the future of policing in Northern Ireland, and the perceptive nature of the Independent Commission (Patten)'s recommendations in this regard.

It is a further exposure of those who continue to lack the courage and capacity to make policing work
Alex Attwood
SDLP policing spokesman

"The next few months will be critical, and I would not wish to give the impression that the reforms recommended by the Independent Commission can be brought about under any circumstance.

"That being said, however, I have no doubt that judging by past achievements and current efforts, the new beginning for policing will become a reality despite the efforts of those guided by their own narrow agendas."

Mr Hutchinson, an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for 34 years, took over as Oversight Commissioner from Tom Constantine who held the position from May 2000 until his retirement at the end of 2003.

Security minister Shaun Woodward said it was timely that Mr Hutchinson had focused his 14th report on the critically important themes of human rights and accountability.

SDLP policing spokesman Alex Attwood said it was a "vindication" of those participating in the new policing structures and "a further exposure of those who continue to lack the courage and capacity to make policing work".


SEE ALSO:
'Free' NI policing from politics
10 Sep 05 |  Northern Ireland
Police reform at 'critical point'
14 Dec 04 |  Northern Ireland
Policing changes 'will be achieved'
21 Sep 04 |  Northern Ireland
NI policing needs community support
06 May 03 |  Northern Ireland
SF close to 'biting policing bullet'
25 Mar 03 |  Northern Ireland


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