SDLP Approves New Police Plan
By Emer Mullins, Contributor
October / November 2001
The latest proposed implementation plan on policing in Northern Ireland has been rejected by Sinn Féin, whose chairman Mitchell McLaughlin said the proposals – jointly put forward by the Irish and British governments – did not go far enough and failed to meet republican demands for radical change. However, in a move that widened the gulf between nationalists and republicans, the SDLP gave their backing to the controversial proposals.
The proposals are a follow-up to the Patton Report, and the two governments hoped the new blueprint would be accepted by both unionists and nationalists. Policing is one of the major stumbling blocks in talks between the parties, with unionists opposed to any scaling down of RUC numbers and nationalists seeking radical change. But the proposals did not go far enough for Sinn Féin.
“It does not constitute a genuine attempt to bridge the gap between republican and nationalist aspirations for a proper and consensual approach to policing,” Chairman McLaughlin claimed.
The report allows for the transformation of the RUC into the Police Service of Northern Ireland under the Northern Ireland Police Act. It outlines in detail plans to scrap the RUC’s 2,400-strong full-time reserve and close Gough Holding Center in Armagh, a republican demand. It would also allow ex-paramilitary prisoners to sit on district policing boards. However, the Chief Constable will have the right to seek to overrule the request for a report from the Policing Board if it involves a sensitive personnel issue.
Mr. McLaughlin said that key issues remained unresolved, including the powers of appointments to the policing boards, changes to the RUC Special Branch and the powers of the police Ombudsman. “With respect to all of these issues, there are no substantive changes to what was already on the table,” he told the Guardian newspaper.
Meanwhile, the Irish Voice, reported that American reaction was mixed. Congressman Ben Gilman, formerly head of the International Relations Committee, hailed the SDLP decision, while Congressman Peter King, Co-Chair of the AD Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, said he wasn’t opposed to it but he wasn’t endorsing it either: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to rush into accepting it. A lot hedges on what the British government is going to do. I don’t want to be part of the stampede against Sinn Féin.” ♦