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Friday, September 10, 1999 Published at 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK


UK: Northern Ireland

Papers differ on Patten proposals



The publication of Chris Patten's report on the future of policing in Northern Ireland dominates the headlines and occupies large of space in the day's newspapers.

The headline on the front-page of The News Letter, commonly perceived as a unionist organ, gives a strong indication of tribal feeling on the report's conclusions.

It reads "Betrayed" beneath a picture of RUC officers carrying the coffin of a fallen colleague to its final resting-place.

While this indicates the strong feeling amongst the unionist community that the Policing Commission's report was written to a republican agenda, the tone of the editorial is more cautious.

It identifies the chief defect of the report as the prospect of "people who represent their attackers" having a significant say in the future of RUC officers.

It refutes the claims by Chris Patten that the commission's report is "apolitical".

Challenging

"Small wonder that there is a deep sense of betrayal among uniformed officers who believe they have become sacrificed on the altar of political expedience."

The editorial says that the pain being felt by the police and the unionist community will come to nought unless nationalists accept the gauntlet, which has been thrown down.

In The Irish News, the reaction is more upbeat. "A new beginning" is its banner headline, signalling the nationalist paper's cautious welcome for the Patten report.

The report by the Commission on Policing is described as a "comprehensive, authoritative and challenging document".

"However, looked at in the round, the Patten document represents as equitable a blueprint for the future of policing in Northern Ireland as we are likely to find."

Former SDLP councillor Brian Feeney points out significant objections which nationalists would have to the report.

The main objection is the unwillingness of unionists to accept and implement the report.

"Unionists will see immediately all they have to do is refuse to establish an executive and all the most telling aspects of police reform stall."

Uncivilised

In The Irish Times, the attitude from Dublin towards the Patten recommendations is evidently positive.

Its editorial acclaims the document as "a visionary report".

It welcomes the report's suggestions on the insignias and symbolism associated with the RUC.

"For all the RUC's courage and dedication, these symbols have been divisive, reflecting one community's ascendancy over the other.

"The Agreement acknowledged - as did those who signed up to it - that the creation of a police force, in no way identified with either side of the political, cultural and religious divide, is essential."

It urges nationalist politicians to "exhort their community to join a remodelled police force that could stand comparison with the best in the world" if and when the proposed changes "take hold".

Blackmail process

The English dailies see the Patten proposals as alternatively "uncivilised report" (The Daily Telegraph) or a challenge to Ulster (The Guardian).

In The Daily Telegraph, the Battle of Hastings and the Bible are used as points of reference for the loss of the RUC's insignia.

"The Saxons did not lose hope at Hastings when Harold was killed, but when the colours were lost. So it goes with the RUC."

It compares giving ownership of policing to nationalists and republicans with "allowing the fox into the chicken coop".

And it concludes that the peace process has become a blackmail process in which nationalists and republicans are being abetted by Chris Patten, whom they call the "ultimate civilised Tory".

The Guardian is more positive in its assessment of Patten's report and says that the important distinction is that the proposed new police structure should be a "service not a force."

In The Independent, the identity of the RUC as "a bulwark of national security and a bulwark of patriotic pride" is described as needful of change.

"It is this sense of identity that the Good Friday Agreement seeks, so radically to change, The police force is as good a place to start as any."



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