Northern Police Authority opposes break-up of RUC
The Police Authority for Northern Ireland has stated in a 90-page submission to the Patten Commission on policing that it would "vigorously oppose" any plan to "disband or break up" the RUC.
Acknowledging that reforms are inevitable, the authority has insisted "there can be no alternative to the RUC as the police service for Northern Ireland".
"There are no grounds for replacing the RUC but there must be clear evidence of a new start," Mr Pat Armstrong, the authority chairman, told a press conference yesterday. "The Belfast Agreement and the Patten Commission provide opportunities for a new beginning for the police service.
"We consider that change is welcome, necessary and healthy in any organisation, but reform must not imply any criticism of the past achievements of the RUC and should pose no threat to the integrity of the force in the future." The authority's submission, "Policing - A New Beginning" contains 70 recommendations. While accepting "visible, significant and meaningful" change, the submission contains no radical proposals to increase substantially the number of Catholics in the force from its 7 per cent level.
"Targets should be set in conjunction with the Fair Employment Commission to bring Catholic representation in the RUC into line with their overall proportion of the population," the authority recommends. It admits that it could take a "generation" or 25 years before that might be achieved.
The authority is also opposed to any regionalisation - an option favoured by the SDLP - of the RUC. "Regional forces or multi-tiered policing in Northern Ireland would be expensive, difficult to co-ordinate and vulnerable to sectarian pressures," Mr Armstrong said.
The submission contains details of an authority survey which found that 57 per cent of Catholics thought the police were doing a good job compared to 55 per cent in 1997. "Most Catholics and Protestants in the lower socio-economic groups used similar vocabulary when referring to police officers, describing them as ill-mannered, unprofessional, arrogant, disrespectful and untrustworthy," the survey also found.
Three out of four people in Northern Ireland believed the police were doing a good or fairly good job, according to the survey, and more people wanted reform - 38 per cent this year compared to 29 per cent in 1995. Disbandment was sought by 16 per cent, a constant figure for three years.
The submission says that "calls for `reform' should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat".
Mr Armstrong added: "Since 1969, 302 RUC officers have been murdered and thousands injured by terrorists from both communities content to attack the police if they cannot get at the opposition.
"It is understandable if the police appear wary when challenged about past history or suspicious of calls for reform or change, but it is to their credit that they have adjusted and adapted so well to the complex and dangerous task of policing a divided society. Defensiveness and insularity are counter-productive and play into the hands of those who would seek to undermine the police service."
The authority is opposed to former paramilitaries being allowed to join the force, but wants an end to the recruitment ban on those with minor convictions.
With peace, a reduction in the size of the RUC would be inevitable. Those leaving should be "generously treated", said Mr Armstrong, and the Chief Constable's independence must be safeguarded. The SDLP and Sinn Fein described the report as inadequate and lacking credibility.