01 October 2005

Landmark link-up for PSNI and Garda

Belfast Telegraph

By Tom Brady and Debra Douglas
01 October 2005

GARDAÍ will be working alongside the PSNI in Northern Ireland within weeks, it has emerged.

The groundbreaking initiative has been almost finalised between the two police forces and is seen as a big boost to the prospects of the PSNI being accepted fully by the nationalist community.

And unionists have reacted calmly to the news, saying that co-operation between the forces is welcome if it leads to enhanced experience.

Members of the PSNI will also work with the Garda in the Republic, and the first swap of personnel will take place under an exchange programme that will be confined largely to non-operational posts.

A Garda superintendent will be sent north next month and will be based at the Garnerville training college in Belfast.

The senior officer will be followed by members of other ranks early in 2006. They will stay with the PSNI for up to a year.

Personnel in the exchange programme will not have policing powers and will be dressed in plain clothes. Their duties will include acting as observers, human resources and training, and community policing.

After the programme gets under way, senior officers from the two forces will then concentrate on the secondment phase, which will involve members being given full police powers and assigned to operational tasks. Officers on secondment can work with the host police force for up to three years and they will eventually be sent out on patrol on the streets of Northern Ireland and the Republic. A decision has not yet been taken on whether these officers will wear a uniform.

The changes are in line with the recommendations of the Patten Commission

DUP MLA and Policing Board member Sammy Wilson said the exchange programme was to be welcomed if it benefited the PSNI, however he warned that the motive could be met with a degree of suspicion.

"If these secondments enhance the skills or improve the efficiency of officers in the PSNI then we would be the first to welcome them," he said.

"The difficulty is that the Good Friday Agreement arises a degree of suspicion that things are being done for political reasons, rather than us learning from them and them from us.

"If the secondment of officers from the Garda brings benefits to the PSNI, we have no difficulties with it, but if there are political connotations attached, then we have absolute objection. I think it is a case of waiting to see what happens."

The PSNI said it could not confirm any date for the first secondment.

"Discussions between the PSNI and the Garda are ongoing in relation to the implementation of the exchange programme," a spokeswoman said.

"A launch date is imminent and the details of the plans will be launched shortly."

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