13 March 2006

UUP's Cobain: policing board is another 'quango'


Furious unionists tonight accused the British Government of breaking a promise after reducing political representation on the next Northern Ireland Policing Board.

By:Press Association
MONDAY 13/03/2006 17:14:54

They claimed Stormont was trying to seize control of the authority, a central part of the Good Friday Agreement, when Secretary of State Peter Hain confirmed independent appointments would be in the majority.

His selections for the new body, which scrutinises police performance and spending of its £830 million budget, included a woman whose party is linked to the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force.

But with the politicians receiving just eight of the 19 seats, Ulster Unionist member Fred Cobain was outraged.

The North Belfast MLA claimed the Government welched on an agreement with his former party leader David Trimble and the Democratic Unionist chief Ian Paisley.

When the Board was formed over four years ago they were assured it would always have more political representatives, in line with the Patten blueprint for police reform, Mr Cobain claimed.

He said: "The Government have ratted on that. They have told lies the whole way through this process.

"They have not only corrupted the whole political process, but they have now corrupted the policing process.

"Democratic control has gone, the Board has now become another quango for the Government to manipulate whatever way they want."

The North Belfast MLA also claimed the changes could be part of a ploy to bring an end to Sinn Fein`s boycott of the policing arrangements.

The republican party refused to nominate to its allocated two seats.

"There`s no reason to change the make-up of the Board unless there has been another deal with Sinn Fein," Mr Cobain said.

"There are no standards to this Government. When they want to change something they just change it.

"This is a slap in the face for those people who took a risk on policing, all to appease Sinn Fein, who may or may not join the Board."

Sinn Fein`s policing spokesman Gerry Kelly was equally dismissive of the new authority.

"The members of this Board have all been appointed by the British Secretary of State," he said.

"This is not what Patten recommended. We need democratic accountability not another quango."

But the Northern Ireland Office hit back at the criticisms, stressing Mr Hain did not have to use Assembly election results or the d`Hondt system based on party strengths to hand out seats.

"Under the law it`s the duty of the Secretary of State to appoint a Board that, as far as practicable, is representative of the community," a spokeswoman said.

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

The new Board will meet for the first time next month when members will elect its chair and vice-chair.

Outgoing chairman Sir Desmond Rea has signalled his willingness to serve again in the top post, with sources saying it would be a shock if he was not chosen.

Two independent representatives, property developer Barry Gilligan and training consultant Pauline McCabe, are believed to be contenders for the vice-chairmanship.

Insiders predicted a Democratic Unionist member could also take the post vacated by Denis Bradley, a former priest who once brokered secret peace talks between the IRA and British Government.

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