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Saturday, August 28, 1999 Published at 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK

UK: Northern Ireland

Flanagan concerned about Patten report

RUC numbers expected to fall in a peacetime situation

The RUC Chief Constable has sent a written message to his officers to reassure them about their future in advance of the Patten report on policing in Northern Ireland.

But Sir Ronnie Flanagan has admitted he is concerned about the report's what the outcome the report will be, following alleged leaks of its contents.

[ image: Sir Ronnie: 'Changes will take a long time']
Sir Ronnie: 'Changes will take a long time'
In a BBC interview, Sir Ronnie said: "I have something like 16,000 people working in policing in this province and when you include at all of their family members you are probably looking at something approaching 160,000 people: ten percent of the population directly affected by what Patten will bring forth.

The Search for Peace
"So of course I am concerned that Patten gets it right, but we'll judge it when we see it.''

Ronnie Flanagan: Concerned but not nervous about report
It has been widely reported that the proposals from the commission headed by the former Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten, to be released in two weeks, will include a name change and a scaling down in the size of the force.

In the letter to his officers Sir Ronnie said he is aware some of the suggested recommendations will have caused "tremendous anguish" for his officers.

He said: ''It is most regrettable that such speculation has taken place in the public domain ahead of the publication of the report, and without giving us the opportunity to gauge the accuracy or otherwise of the report's alleged contents.

''It is appreciated that some of the suggested recommendations will have caused tremendous anguish.''

But Sir Ronnie emphasised that many of the changes will take time, and would have to pass through the House of Commons before becoming law.

BBC NI security correspondent Brian Rowan reports
He said: "There is no doubt that whatever Patten recommends will have to be implemented very carefully following a consultation period and in the light of the prevailing security situation.

''Undoubtedly many of his recommendations, whatever they may be, will require legislation and implementation over a lengthy evolutionary period.''

He added: "All members should be assured that the entire organisation including all the staff associations and PANI will be working flat out to ensure that the interests of all members and their families will be represented.''

Sir Ronnie's letter follows angry comments from Unionists based on what they said was a leak of the report's contents.

Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble, said: "If the leaks on policing are accurate then the Patten Commission has failed and the report should be consigned to the bin.

'Savage repudiation of force'

"The symbolic changes, particularly to the honoured name of the existing service, are a savage repudiation of the present force, the people in it and those who have served and sacrificed for the community."

[ image: Chris Patten has said his report should not be cherrypicked]
Chris Patten has said his report should not be cherrypicked
The Democratic Unionist Party's Gregory Campbell said if the reports were true, the changes to be proposed by Patten would be an anathema to every unionist in Northern Ireland, and even to many moderate nationalists.

Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party, which has links to loyalist paramilitaries, the UVF, warned that if the leaks were true, ''the position of his party within the current political process will be untenable''.

The former Hong Kong governor, Chris Patten and his team have already recommended that the report should not be "cherrypicked".

Republicans want the RUC, which they say does not represent their community, disbanded.

The Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam has already said that disbandment has not been recommended.

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