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Sinn Féin Response to the Revised Implementation Plan on Policing, 25 August 2001

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Response to the Revised Implementation Plan on Policing


A New Beginning to Policing

The Good Friday Agreement promised a new policing service that would be:

  • representative of the community it polices
  • democratically accountable for its actions
  • free from partisan political control
  • infused with a human rights culture
  • culturally neutral in respect of its flag, badge, symbols, working environment etc

All of the parties to the Good Friday Agreement accepted that these criteria were central to a new beginning to policing. The report of the Patten Commission, following consultation, was the compromise on policing which followed. Although Sinn Fein believe Patten did not go far enough, we made clear that if implemented in full it could provide a threshold for a new policing service.

Police Act undermines Patten

Despite repeated commitments from Tony Blair to implement Patten, the response of the British government was to gut the Report and to squander the opportunity for a new beginning to policing. Since its original publication there have been a series of negotiations on this issue, designed to bring the British government back to the commitments, which it gave on policing. 

In the course of these negotiations Sinn Fein did succeed in bringing about some positive changes with regard to the British position. Most significantly when others had given up, Sinn Fein argued for and secured from the British government an explicit acknowledgement that the legislation does not live up to Patten. However the British government have refused to provide the detail of the amendments, which they say they will bring forward. As a result we do not have an irrevocable commitment to legislative amendments in respect to any of the concerns that we have consistently raised.

The revised Implementation Plan does not, nor could it, compensate for the now acknowledged deficiencies in the Police Act. It is, therefore, our view that the Implementation Plan taken in conjunction with the Police Act does not provide the decisive new beginning to policing as promised in the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein, therefore, will not endorse these proposals and will not be nominating to the Policing Board in this context.

Sinn Fein and those who vote for us want a policing service. All of these problems are surmountable if there is the political will to do so and we will keep pushing for the necessary amendments, for as long as it takes.

Police Act and Implementation Plan fall short of Patten

On a range of issues the propositions contained in the Police Act and the revised Implementation Plan fall far short of the Patten Report and cannot deliver the new beginning to policing required under the Good Friday Agreement. These include:


Patten required that every officer, serving officers and new recruits swear the new oath. This was the compromise between disbandment of the RUC and undifferentiated continuation of § the old order. It was to have marked the new beginning to policing and the inculcation of a new human rights ethos. It was also designed to have precedence over oaths given to secret societies by serving officers (e.g. Orange/Masonic Order).

The British government's position does not fulfil Patten's recommendations. The Patten recommendation in respect of the oath should be implemented.


This relates to the balance of powers between the Policing Board, the British Secretary of State and the Chief Constable with regard to the Good Friday Agreement's criteria for accountability and freedom from partisan political control. Under the present proposals, the British Secretary of State and the Chief Constable still retain considerable overriding powers. The primary body of accountability should be a democratically controlled Board.

Patten made clear that the balance of power between the British Secretary of State, the Chief Constable and the Policing Board must be radically different from the balance of power under the status quo. The present proposals do not meet Patten's criteria. In addition, the revised Implementation Plan reinvents the status quo in many areas by making any developments subject to `security assessments' of the Chief Constable, the Northern Ireland Office, the British Army GOC and the British Secretary of State. Patten's recommendations regarding tri-partite arrangements must be implemented.


The role of the Board is to hold the Chief Constable and the police service to account. The Chief Constable should be obliged to report to the Board on any policing matter outside of the limited exceptions agreed by Patten. The Police Act and revised Implementation Plan enlarge these exceptions giving greater scope to the Chief Constable to escape the obligation to report. Patten's recommendations must be faithfully implemented through amending legislation.


Patten directed that members of the new police service be under an obligation to co-operate with an inquiry by the Board. He also recommended that the Board's powers of inquiry not be subject to veto or obstruction by the same securocrats who have created the policing problem.

Patten also recognised the RUC legacy of repression and partisanship and strongly advocated that the powers of inquiry afforded to the Policing Board would be a critical tool in restoring confidence in policing and demonstrating that policing policy and practice, as well as the conduct of individual police officers, would be accountable.

Patten recommended that the Chief Constable should have to account for every aspect of her/his conduct of office, and the conduct of the police service.

Instead of the Police Act and revised Implementation Plan fulfilling Patten's requirement for Board inquiries, detailed procedural hurdles have been put in the way of the Board initiating an inquiry, including an explicit bar on inquiries into past policing activities. There should be no restrictions placed on Board inquiries into past, present or future policing activities outside of those identified by Patten.


The DPPs provide an important mechanism for local accountability. This includes a requirement on district commanders to give after the fact explanations for their actions.

Patten stressed the `bridging' role that DPPs are intended to play between the district commander and the local community. Indeed, Patten emphasised that the relationship between the district commander and the local DPP was as important as the relationship between the Chief Constable and the Policing Board. Under the present British government Act and revised Implementation Plan, the district commander is not fully accountable to the DPP in his area.

Furthermore and contrary to Patten, the Police Act explicitly disqualifies former political prisoners from independent membership of DPPs. Patten made no such disqualification. The ban should be removed immediately. The deficient powers of DPPs in the Act can only be remedied through legislation. This must be done to give DPPs the statutory powers of accountability, which Patten recommended.


Patten required ``that the District Policing Partnership of Belfast should have four sub-groups covering North, South, East and West'', respectively, and that ``all DPPs, or DPP sub-committees in the case of Belfast, should be co-terminus with a police district'' (para 6.28). These recommendations were made on the basis of local realities and after a year of deliberations.

Instead, the Act and revised Implementation Plan ensure that the Chief Constable retains the power to determine the number of police districts and their territory. Patten's recommendations must be implemented.


Under the arrangements flowing from the Act, the conduct of police officers more than one year before the coming into force of the Act will only be investigated by the Ombudsman under certain stringent conditions. Patten made no such recommendation. The issue of retrospective inquiries must be addressed if human rights abusers, as required by Patten, are to be dealt with.


Covert policing has been an area of huge controversy and difficulty in the recent past. The British government's proposals do not reflect the substance of Patten on this issue.

In addition, the appointment of a former Diplock court judge (Lord Justice McDermott), to oversee undercover policing, will not assist in winning nationalist and republican confidence in the independent accountability mechanisms for the force. Neither is confidence increased by the fact that the Code of Practice relating to covert policing remains unpublished.


The Patten formulation is that ``policing with the community shall be the core function of every police officer''. The need for the Police Board to be able to monitor and appraise the police service and each serving police officer, must primarily entail scrutiny of the core function: policing with the community. The Act does not do this and amending legislation is required to fulfil Patten's requirements.


There has been little movement on these recommendations and further movement is dependent on the Chief Constable's (and Special Branch) analysis of ``the security environment''. The veto over the extent and the pace of implementation, which is afforded the NIO, the British Army GOC and the Chief Constable is wholly inconsistent with progress on these issues and is in effect conditional upon securocrat approval.


Plastic bullets are lethal weapons and they should be banned immediately. That is why Patten recommended their speedy replacement on the basis of an independent research programme in the terms Patten defined. The British government's own research findings have led to the introduction of a new, more lethal plastic bullet. A new policing service, which remains reliant on plastic bullets is a contradiction in terms. The use of plastic bullets should be ended now.


The British government continues to resist the implementation of Patten recommendation 46, which directed that all police officers working in local communities must be identified by name and local station while on duty. Once more, this is not merely an infringement of this specific Patten recommendation but further illustrates the resistance by the British government to the creation of a new community-policing blueprint.


Patten identified the problems of the ``force within a force'' which Special Branch represents and which the Patten Commissioners identified as a block to transformation. Revelations since then that the Special Branch has discretion to suppress evidence and impede criminal prosecutions, as stated in the leaked Walker report, further underlines the impunity of Special Branch. It is clear that the revised Implementation Plan does little to effectively curtail the corrosive influence of Special Branch, which will remain intact as a force within a force.


The Patten Commission envisaged that ``the Full Time Reserve will be phased out over three years'' as contracts expire. Almost two years since Patten, this has not even commenced. Phasing out of 3-year contracts will now commence in April 2002 and even this belated implementation remains subject to security considerations.

In addition, Patten called for an immediate expansion of the Part Time reserve as a way of addressing nationalist under-representation. The Implementation Plan now indicates this will happen over a three-year period beginning in April 2002. No information is given as to how nationalist and republican recruits will be attracted to join.


Proportionality is key to achieving a new beginning to policing. However, there is no British government strategy to achieve this key objective. There is no acknowledgement that there is a political character to representativeness in terms of nationalism and republicanism. There are no goals and timetables for the achievement of political and religious representativeness at all levels and in all capacities of the functions of the police service. There is no comprehensive and credible scheme or body of statistics to indicate how and when this objective will be achieved. For instance, how in years 1-10 will the composition of the police service be affected in terms of representativeness of the society it polices as a result of:

  • The recruitment of full-time regular officers;
  • The recruitment of part time reservists;
  • The disbanding of the full time reserve;
  • Lateral entry;
  • Natural wastage; and
  • The early retirement scheme.

Sinn Fein has sought certainty and clarity on this issue without success.


Patten recommended that ``All officers - those now in service as well as all future recruits - should be obliged to register their interests and associations (Such as A.O.H., Orange Order, Masonic Order etc.). The register should be held both by the police service and by the Police Ombudsman.''

Instead, the Act and revised Implementation Plan provide that this information will be held on individual personnel files possessed by the Chief Constable. This will make accessing the information for analytical purposes very difficult, if not impossible. In addition, the British government has refused to allow the Ombudsman to hold a register of this information.


The reference to the RUC in the Police Act runs contrary to the Patten recommendations on the name of the Police Service. This reference, a sop to unionism, should be removed.


Patten called for emblems which are ``free from association'' with the Irish and British states. This recommendation should be implemented.

The situation remains the muddle, which Peter Mandelson put in place. The Policing Board will be consulted and then the symbols will be designed.

Though the government says it will implement the Patten recommendation, this is what they have been saying all along. The recommendation should be implemented now.


The creation of an RUC George Cross Foundation by the British government cherishes and preserves the failed legacy of the RUC. Patten made no such recommendation.


The Oversight Commissioner has been tasked by the British government to oversee the operation of the Police Act rather than the full implementation of Patten. Since the Act diverges from Patten in so many respects, not least the key areas already outlined, the ability of the Commissioner to discharge his ``responsibility for supervising the implementation of our (the Patten Commission's) recommendations'' has been thoroughly undermined by the Act.

In addition, the Oversight Commissioner has no powers of direction. He is only empowered to make recommendations on determinations that the implementation of the Police Act is inconsistent with the Good Friday Agreement and the Patten report. Action, including legislative change, remains entirely at the discretion of the British Secretary of State and the Chief Constable. The Oversight Commissioner should be given the statutory powers and the role envisioned by Patten - overseeing the implementation of the Patten report.


It remains our firm view that changes to the revised Implementation Plan and more significantly, amending legislation is required to bring the Police Act into line with the Patten Report and the possibility of a new beginning to policing as required by, and in the terms set out in, the Good Friday Agreement. We believe that this can be achieved, but it requires determination and a strict adherence to the criteria identified in the Good Friday Agreement. The present British proposals do not meet these criteria. Further work is necessary. Sinn Fein is committed to achieving the objective of a new beginning to policing. Finally, a number of other related issues need to be borne in mind:

  • Repressive legislation has no role in the new political dispensation created by the Good Friday Agreement. The continuing application of draconian powers will immediately alienate any police force from popular opinion.
  • The review of the justice system needs to be wide-ranging and radical. This is germane to creating an acceptable policing service. Otherwise, even a new police service could fall victim to the legacy of a failed past.
  • A new beginning to policing requires the truth about collusion to be revealed. Relevant measures include public inquiries into controversial killings, including those of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, and Robert Hamill and other killings involving state collusion and shoot-to-kill policies.
  • The concerted and sustained sectarian campaigns against isolated Catholics and nationalists in Antrim, Larne, Ballymena, Coleraine, Ardoyne, Dunmurray and East Belfast along with the perceived impunity with which the perpetrators act, adversely impacts on any sense of a new beginning being generated. The absence of an accountable, representative policing service willing and able to support the nationalist community in facing down loyalist violence is a reminder that the continuing function of the police force in this state, is primarily to serve and defend the state and those deemed loyal to the state.
  • The British Government has accepted the need for amending legislation. However, if they were serious about resolving the issue of Policing conclusively then they would produce the amending legislation now, and not delay for another 18 months.

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