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Tuesday, 16 May, 2000, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Curbs likely on plastic bullet use
Plastic bullets being fired by RUC officers at Drumcree
Plastic bullets: Fired during Drumcree protests
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson has hinted that further curbs on the use of plastic bullets will be contained in the soon-to-be published Policing Bill.

In an article in The Irish Times, Mr Mandelson suggested that most of the recommendations proposed by Chris Patten's Independent Commission on Policing would be implemented.

He said that human rights "would be the corner stone of the new policing service".

On the controversial issue of the RUC name, Mr Mandelson said the new service would have a new title as of Autumn 2001.

Peter Mandelson: Endorsed many of the Patten proposals
Peter Mandelson: Did not want to change RUC name
"If I could achieve the objective of a new beginning for policing without this change, I would do so."

He streesed that any name change should not be interepreted as "an insult and tantamount to disbandment".

"It is important to dispel these thoughts and I am giving consideration to how this might be done."

On Monday, Mr Mandelson announced the establishment of the RUC George Cross Foundation offering bursaries and scholarships to police officers as a way of "honouring the achievements" of the force.

Mr Mandelson said the foundation would acknowledge the sacrifice of the RUC and would be in "recognition of what the title means" to its members, former members and widows.

In his article, the Secretary of State said there would be a new research programme into the use of plastic baton rounds.

"Patten stopped short of banning their use until a viable alternative could be found," he said.

"I wish to take that process forward."

People injured by plastic bullets and relatives of those killed by their use have mounted a long campaign calling for their complete ban.

He said he would appoint an "internationally respected figure" as Oversight Commissioner who would review and assess the reforms of the policing service.

Former electricity consumer watchdog Nuala O'Loan has already been appointed as the independent Ombudsman who will investigate complaints against the police.

Mr Mandelson said all police officers would be required to register their interests and memberships of organisations such as the Protestant Orange Order or the Catholic Ancient Order of Hibernians. This information would be available to the Police Ombudsman.

'Last resort'

Sources have told the BBC it is unlikely that the initials RUC will be part of the working title of the new police service.

In a letter to Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, Mr Mandelson said the final decision on the new name of the police force would be left to him.

However, he said this option would be a "last resort" in the event that the Police Board would not agree on a name.

That 19-member board will include ten politicians from the Ulster unionists, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Fein and is to begin its work in April 2001.

The Bill is also expected to say that "the Secretary of State shall have regard to the need to secure that the membership of the police force is representative of the community in Northern Ireland".

RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan
Sir Ronnie Flanagan: 'Foundation will preserve name of RUC'
Mr Mandelson paid tribute to the RUC who, he said, were due "tremendous credit".

"The RUC have started to prepare for the changes with typical discipline and professionalism."

He said the changes would challenge the unionist and nationalist communities.

"The new police service will be all the more effective for becoming more representative of both traditions in Northern Ireland."

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See also:

16 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Angry reaction to RUC name plan
15 May 00 | Northern Ireland
RUC foundation announced
15 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Mandelson to decide NI police name
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Anger over policing bill
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Bill confirms RUC name change
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RUC changes at a glance
09 Sep 99 | Northern Ireland
RUC name change 'insult to victims'
09 Sep 99 | Northern Ireland
The personalities behind RUC reform
09 Sep 99 | Northern Ireland
Q&A: The Patten report
18 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
Adams wants RUC reforms 'in full'
01 Dec 99 | Northern Ireland
RUC accepts bulk of Patten proposals
17 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
RUC payout talks to begin
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