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Thursday, 9 September, 1999, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Q&A: The Patten report
The Patten report on the future of policing in Northern Ireland recommended major changes to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The BBC's Ireland Correspondent Denis Murray answers questions about key aspects of the report.

What effect could the report have on the peace process?

The Patten report is in many ways like the Good Friday Agreement - it's aimed at getting as wide a consensus between the communities as possible, and at addressing contradictory agendas. It may be able to attract the support of the main middle ground - in time - but in some ways, the future of the report depends on progress in the political arena.

Why are unionists so upset with changing the RUC's name, badge and flag?

Symbolism has always been very important in Northern Ireland, and the emotions attached to them powerful. Unionists see the RUC as their force -the thin green line against the worst ravages of terrorism, particularly the IRA. Changing the name puts a stamp of failure on the force, and not flying the union flag on police stations smacks of the slippery slope to getting rid of it altogether.

There are fundamental changes - are nationalists still unhappy?

The nationalist SDLP broadly welcomed the report, and Sinn Fein has effectively reserved its judgement while it has an internal debate on it. If the republicans decide they don't like it, it'll be on the basis that mere reform is not enough. They've long called for the RUC to be disbanded.

What happens now to the recommendations?

The Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam will begin a process of consultation with the RUC, its representative associations, and the political parties. Some parts of the report require legislation, and the government is keen to try and have it announced in the Queen's speech. Unionists have said they oppose that.

Implementation is predicated on the security situation remaining as it is, or improving; and on the executive, or cabinet, of the devolved assembly being formed and taking on its powers.

How will the proposals 'de-politicise' policing as Chris Patten hopes?

The aim is to de-politicise it by making the RUC a community-based force, with the support of both Protestants and Catholics, with members drawn from both communities on a representative basis. The less tense the political and security situations are, the more likely it will be that such a force can emerge.

Why are police numbers are going to be reduced from 13,000 officers to 7,500?

In a similar sized region in Britain, with a similar population, the police force would be much smaller. Even at 7,500 its out of proportion, and, according to the report, more on the lines of the New York city police.

Will Catholics want to join a revamped force?

The numbers of Catholics applying to join the RUC rose sharply after the 1994 IRA ceasefire, though that fell back sharply when the truce was broken. The numbers rose again when the ceasefire was restored, and commission was told by career teachers that many youngsters would like a career in policing, just not in Northern Ireland.

Therefore, it would seem logical to suppose that if there was consensus about the new police force, there would be no reason why Catholics would not want to join.

Who pays for the changes?

Central government would still pick up most of the bill, but the report suggests that local councils could add three pence to rates which would raise 6m for some police functions.

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

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09 Sep 99 | N Ireland
09 Sep 99 | N Ireland
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