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Thursday, September 9, 1999 Published at 18:04 GMT 19:04 UK


Conditions not right for Patten Recommendations

By historian and journalist, Ruth Dudley Edwards

The eminently reasonable and liberal Chris Patten has presided over the composition of a report that would pose few problems if Northern Ireland were like Middle England. Unfortunately, it isn't.

When Patten was asked to take on this job, optimists believed that by the time he reported, Northern Ireland would be peaceful, a power-sharing executive would be up and running, terrorists would have decommissioned their weapons and dismantled their armies and the two communities would be learning to trust each other.

Pattern Report
None of these conditions yet apply. Worse, the law-abiding have been alienated by seeing the prisons steadily emptied, while terrorists continue to rule their ghettos with guns, iron bars and nail-studded baseball bats.

Ulster unionists are proud of the RUC, which they see as a force that kept Northern Ireland from sliding into anarchy and protected both the British mainland and the Republic of Ireland from innumerable attacks by republican and loyalist terrorists respectively.

Outrage

They are outraged at the proposal to change the force's name and badge, which they see as a dishonouring of the 302 police men and women murdered during the Troubles and the 8,500 injured.

What distresses them even more is that they know from personal experience and surveys that it is only republicans who want these changes, and they want them because they know they will further demoralise the police and cause deep anguish in the unionist community.

More threatening are Patten's recommendations for getting rid of the full-time police reserve, and recruiting part time reservists in areas where there are currently "very few reservists or none at all."

Recruiting terrorists?

Since Patten explicitly states that there should be "no predisposition to exclude candidates from republican backgrounds," it would be well-nigh impossible to stop the recruitment of conviction-free members of the IRA.

In loyalist areas, too, the hoods would be anxious to get in on the act. And the proposals for District Policing Partnership Boards offer rich opportunities for spokesmen for terrorists to cause serious trouble for police. Add to that the suggestion that Sinn Fein, which has spent years justifying the murder of police while demonising the RUC - should have two seats on a Police Board, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Most unionists believe that rather than risk bombs in London, the British government would surrender Northern Ireland to fascists. With the best of motives, Patten and his colleagues will have increased unionist alienation and made David Trimble's position even more precarious.

The only chance of saving the Good Friday Agreement is for the Prime Minister to promise that no controversial recommendations will be implemented while terrorists are still in business.



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