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Wednesday, September 8, 1999 Published at 19:57 GMT 20:57 UK

UK: Northern Ireland

Police chief's plea over Patten report

Highly sensitive: The Patten report recommends sweeping reforms

The Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary has appealed for the highly sensitive Patten report on the future of policing in Northern Ireland to be given rational consideration.

The Search for Peace
More related to this story
Link to Sir Christopher Patten
Link to Sir Ronnie Flanagan
Sir Ronnie Flanagan has also said his force has always been open to change.

He was speaking after discussing the report with its author Chris Patten and the Northern Ireland Police Authority.

Sir Ronnie said: "This report clearly marks a milestone not only for policing but perhaps for the development of society here.

"So it deserves to be considered coolly, rationally and professionally in that light and that is what we will be doing over the next 24 hours."

The report is due to be published on Thursday.

The BBC's Denis Murray reports: "The aim is to produce the best policing service possible"
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 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.

Pattern Report
Police Authority chairman 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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