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Wednesday, September 8, 1999 Published at 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK

UK: Northern Ireland

Sweeping reforms for RUC

The RUC faces fundamental change if the report is implemented

The Patten report on the future of the Royal Ulster Constabulary recommends a name change and a reduction in size for the Northern Ireland police force, the BBC has learned.

The Search for Peace
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Link to Sir Christopher Patten
Link to Sir Ronnie Flanagan
The report, entitled A New Beginning For Policing, recommends that the RUC be renamed the Northern Ireland Police Service.

It suggests that the number of officers in the force be progressively reduced from 13,000 to around 8,000, and that its full-time reserve of 3,000 officers be disbanded.

The highly controversial report, to be published on Thursday, is 128 pages long and contains 200 recommendations on the future of the RUC.

The BBC's Denis Murray reports: "The recommendations are understood to contain several major changes"
The report's author, former British governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten, has briefed the Chief Constable of the RUC, Sir Ronnie Flanagan and Northern Ireland Police Authority Chairman Pat Armstrong on its contents, 24 hours before it is due to the published.

Sir Ronnie left the meeting without commenting, holding a copy of the report.

Pat Armstrong said he had not had enough time to consider the report in detail to comment on its contents.

[ image: Chris Patten: Made 200 recommendations]
Chris Patten: Made 200 recommendations
The Patten report is expected to recommend replacing the Police Authority with a police board.

Other proposals include plans to streamline the force's structure from its current 38 sub-divisions to 26 units, along the lines of Northern Ireland's council boundaries and change the oath of office.

And it is recommended that the recruitment of officers for the force - currently 92% Protestant - is done in future by a civilian authority, on a 50/50 Protestant/Catholic basis.

The report recommends that a commissioner should be appointed from abroad to oversee the reforms.

'End GAA ban'

It also proposes that the Gaelic Athletic Association should lift its ban on members of the security forces joining.

And it is understood to urge community leaders to encourage people to join the police.

The report has been compiled by Mr Patten and seven international commission members, following 15 months of consultation with all sides of the community in Northern Ireland.

[ image:  ]
Plans to reform the RUC were included as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

It had been expected that they would be published after a new devolved government was in place in Belfast, and paramilitaries had handed over their weapons.

But it now comes at a crucial time in the peace process, when the executive is not yet in place and former US Senator George Mitchell is in Belfast to review the progress of the Good Friday Agreement.

Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson: Reforms offensive to many whose loyalties lie with the United Kingdom
The recommendations are likely to be highly controversial among both nationalist and unionist communities.

Unionist politicians have warned Britain against changing the RUC's traditions to appease republicans, while nationalists have insisted that the force must be abolished.

The RUC chief constable recently wrote to his officers, saying that any changes would be implemented carefully, and over a lengthy evolutionary period.

Sinn Fein chief whip Alec Maskey gives the republican response
He also said that changes would be made only in the light of the prevailing security situation at the time.

Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam has said that the province's political parties and the Northern Ireland Police Federation, which represents most of the RUC's officers, will be able to review Patten's findings.

The UK government will then decide whether to implement the changes recommended.

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