15 March 2006

UUP locks horns with DUP over policing board

Belfast Telegraph

By Noel McAdam
14 March 2006

The DUP and Ulster Unionists were at loggerheads today as controversy over the reconstituted Policing Board grew.

The UUP accused the DUP of 'welshing' on a deal to refuse to nominate members for the new board if it was dominated by independents.

But the DUP insisted there had been no understanding and countered that the UUP was "thrashing around" over its policy towards the new board.

It also emerged it will be probably next week before Ulster Unionists announce whether they will formally boycott the revamped board, due to meet for the first time on April 1.

UUP Assembly member Danny Kennedy said: "It is wonderfully ironic that as the Government is preparing to significantly reduce quangoes it has turned the most important body in Northern Ireland into a quango.

"But we had an understanding with the DUP because of shared concerns that the new board would be dominated by independents. It was in the event of that being the case the two parties would not nominate. Something has happened to change their minds."

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson said, however, that party officers were unaware of any understanding. A senior source said the UUP was "thrashing around to get out of a hole".

New DUP board member Arlene Foster said: "I have no knowledge of any understanding. The fact is we are all nominated and it is a quango because the Assembly is not running.

"There are three members among the independents who are political people - Trevor Ringland (a UUP member) Dawn Purvis (chairwoman of the Progressive Unionists) and (former SDLP Assembly member) Joe Byrne."

Meanwhile, the SDLP voiced concerns over the appointment of Mrs Purvis, a senior member of the UVF-linked PUP. Policing Board member Alban Maginness said: "While there have been some suggestions that the UVF may be reviewing its political direction, (this) decision raises immediate and serious questions.

"How does the Northern Ireland Office reconcile their decision with the conclusions of the Independent Monitoring Commission less than six months ago?" he asked.

Re-appointed Ulster Unionist member Fred Cobain said the Government had "ratted" on an agreement with his former party leader David Trimble and DUP counterpart Ian Paisley that political representatives would always have a majority on the board.

After refusing to nominate Sinn Fein said a board appointed by the Secretary of State was not what the Patten policing blueprint envisaged. Policing spokesman Gerry Kelly said: "We need democratic accountability not another quango."

An NIO spokewoman said it was the duty of the Secretary of State "to appoint a board that, as far as practicable, is representative of the community.

"As Sinn Fein refused to nominate, the Secretary of State achieved an acceptable community balance by making further independent appointments."

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