27 January 2006

Reiss: SF will sign up to police reforms


27/01/2006 - 14:09:28

It is only a matter of time before Sinn Féin joins other Northern parties in signing up to policing reforms, a senior United States government official claimed today.

Ambassador Mitchell Reiss told a police graduation ceremony at Garneville College in east Belfast it was widely believed the North had one of the best police services in Europe.

But US President George W Bush’s special envoy to the North told graduates that, having come through considerable reform, the Police Service of Northern Ireland faced more challenges when all sides signed up to policing.

“Given the history of Northern Ireland, your decisions and actions will be scrutinised and constantly weighed.

“It is a responsibility that you’re more than capable of handling. I know, because I’ve seen your fellow constables rise to this challenge repeatedly.

“And one day soon, you will have to face another challenge. One day soon, all of Northern Ireland’s political parties will move to fully support the PSNI.

“I believe it is only a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’.

“That’s what I’m working to bring about: that’s what my colleagues in Belfast, London, and Dublin are all working toward. When this happens, you will have to build trust and confidence across the community.

“When this day comes, I know you will meet this challenge, just as you have met so many other challenges that have brought you to this day.”

All parties except Sinn Féin have signed up to police reforms in the North which transformed the Royal Ulster Constabulary into the PSNI.

The reforms were aimed at redressing the religious imbalance by persuading more Catholics to join the PSNI after the demise of the overwhelmingly Protestant RUC .

They also led to the creation of a Police Ombudsman, a Policing Board and District Policing Partnership boards which are designed to hold PSNI officers and their leadership to account for their actions.

However despite the nationalist SDLP, Irish Government and the Catholic Church backing the reforms, Sinn Féin claims the reforms have not gone far enough and do not have the support of the majority of nationalists.

The party has been pressing for the transfer of policing and justice powers out of the hands of ministers from Westminster to a devolved government at Stormont.

The British government is expected to introduce legislation later next month addressing Sinn Féin’s demand.

Sinn Féin, which met Ambassador Reiss in Belfast earlier today, has come under considerable pressure from the US government to sign up to policing.

Ambassador Reiss’s comments echoed claims last week by New York Congressman Jim Walsh, when he met political parties in Belfast, that he believed it was a matter of when and not if over Sinn Fein’s participation in the Policing Board.

Ambassador Reiss told an audience which included Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde and Policing Board member Sam Foster that policing was the outstanding success story of the North’s peace process.

“Many individuals, including new constables such as yourselves, have taken courageous steps to launch the new beginning to policing,” he told the graduates.

“And make no mistake: with sweeping structural reforms, accountability mechanisms, and local oversight, many people think you have one of the best police services in all of Europe.

“I think everyone in Northern Ireland knows this, as the figures of increasing public support for the PSNI in unionist, nationalist, loyalist and republican communities show.”

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