US report calls for RUC reform

 

Unionists have reacted angrily to a report by members of the US Congress calling for substantial reform of the RUC.

The report, which was presented in Belfast yesterday by the delegation's chairman, Mr Benjamin Gilman, calls for "root and branch reform of the RUC as a minimum".

Mr Gilman said: "As our letter to the chairman of the Independent Commission on Policing, Mr Chris Patten, sets out, if the peace process is to fulfil its great potential, there must be - as the Good Friday agreement itself calls for - `a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland'. Minimalist reforms of the RUC will not suffice."

The report, "New and Acceptable Policing in Northern Ireland", is based on a hearing of witnesses before the bipartisan House International Relations Committee on April 22nd. It will be given to the Patten Commission, which is to make recommendations on policing in Northern Ireland by the autumn.

The witnesses included Ms Diane Hamill, whose brother Robert was killed by a loyalist mob in Portadown in 1997, and the president of the Irish National Caucus, Father Sean McManus. While there was evidence from human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, there were no submissions from unionists or the RUC, although Mr Gilman stressed they had been invited.

"In our minds, there is simply nothing more important for a just and lasting peace in Northern Ireland than a new, acceptable and fair police service that warrants and earns the support of all of the people in the new Northern Ireland," Mr Gilman concluded.

Unionist politicians have severely criticised the report. Sir Reg Empey, a UUP Assembly member, said Mr Peter King, a member of the US delegation and co-chairman of the committee for Irish Affairs, was well known for his support for Irish republicanism.

Mr Sammy Wilson, a DUP Assembly member, said Americans should look at the "scandalous record of their own police forces before arrogantly demanding changes to the RUC".

The chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Mr Les Rodgers, whose letter to Mr Gilman is the only police document in the report, said the US Congressman was concerned only with Irish-American votes. He alleged the delegation had turned down invitations to meet RUC officers and their families.