Orde urges acceptance of devolved policing


Devolution of policing powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly should proceed as soon as possible, the North's chief police officer said today.

Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde said elected politicians should be taking decisions on law and order in line with the policing blueprint drawn up by Lord Patten in 1999.

Sir Hugh also urged republicans to join the policing structures as soon as possible. The issue is crucial to political talks being held between the local parties in Scotland on Wednesday.

Sir Hugh told the BBC: "I think it just needs to happen, before or after [the St Andrew's talks] is a matter for politicians.

"For me the next stage is that local government, because then you can see the real vision of pattern, which was devolution of policing to the local Assembly."

Sinn Fein has refused to accept the policing accountability structures laid down in the Patten report. These include the Policing Board and District Policing Partnerships which scrutinise police performance.

The position has been criticised by other parties in Northern Ireland and the Democratic Unionist Party has said the matter will need to be resolved at the St Andrew's negotiations.

Unionists considered it essential that any party with government ministers should accept the rule of law and are concerned to ensure that republican criminality has ended.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has said he wants an effective policing service, but wants powers over policing and justice to be handed down to the Assembly in Belfast before the party changes its official position.

Sir Hugh said people on the ground in nationalist areas were working with the police and warned that their leadership could be left behind.

"What is really interesting is the more my officers and my staff go into the community delivering effective policing, the more we are being given opportunities by those communities to deliver a policing service," he said.

"If politicians don't jump on board fairly quickly they will get left behind by people who are experiencing our policing service and that is in some of the most difficult (areas) where there is still a very real dissident republican threat."

He added his officers were working in every part of Northern Ireland and said members of those communities were already working with them behind the scenes. If Sinn Fein joined the Policing Board then these people could support them openly, he added.