Report calls for commission on policing in North


A political settlement in Northern Ireland "will be difficult if not impossible to reach" if the issue of policing is not addressed, according to a new report from a human rights organisation in Belfast. The report from the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) says there must be a recognition of the current problem with policing in the North, which it identifies as "its unrepresentative, highly militarised, and insufficiently accountable nature".

It also calls for the establishment of a commission on policing to facilitate a society-wide debate involving community leaders, political representatives and civil society in general. A truth commission similar to that in South Africa should also be given serious consideration "for dealing with the past".

The 300-page report, entitled Human Rights on Duty, is based on the findings of an 18-month research project which studied policing in countries such as South Africa, El Salvador, Spain and Australia, and focuses on the principles for better policing.

A CAJ spokeswoman, Ms Angela Hegarty, said it was important that policing was not used "as a system of bartering" in relation to the political process. "We all need a police service we can trust and rely upon. The problem is we don't yet have that." She said the political will to bring about change was crucial.

One of the authors of the report, Dr Linda Moore, accepted some change had occurred in the RUC but said it needed to be "much more radical and much more wholesale".

Among a wide range of proposals, the report says it is "particularly important" that official targets be set for the representation of Catholics, women and other under-represented groups.

It accepts that trying to change the composition of the force at a time of reduced recruitment is difficult, but suggests introducing redundancy packages and extending fair employment legislation.

A commitment to recruit widely could be expressed in numerous practical ways, it says, such as "a willingness to adopt symbols which reflect the culture and aspirations of different communities, and by giving recognition to minority language rights, especially Irish".

The report also recommends much more civilian involvement in the training of police officers.

It also says the British government should end its reliance on emergency legislation as this is making impartial policing more, rather than less, difficult.

According to the CAJ the purpose of the research was to bring together concrete proposals and good practice for Northern Ireland from other jurisdictions around the world which have undergone major changes in policing.

A spokesman for the Police Federation said a truth commission would "open old wounds" and the report was incorrect to call the RUC militarised.