Dáil Éireann - Volume 515 - 07 March, 2000
Written Answers. - Northern Ireland Police Service.
Mr. Sargent Mr. Sargent
87. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to steps which have already been taken, or which are planned in the near future, for the re-deployment of special branch support units and the rotation of special branch officers in line with recommendations in the Patten report. [6820/00]
Mr. Gormley Mr. Gormley
88. Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps, if any, which have been taken to suggest appropriate candidates for the oversight commissioner post proposed by the Patten report; and the steps, if any, the Government has taken to ensure an early appointment in view of the urgency of external oversight. [6872/00]
Mr. Gormley Mr. Gormley
89. Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has sought and received assurances that analyses of the security situation by the Chief Constable are not the sole criterion to be exercised by the British Government when determining the pace of policing change, particularly those considered to be security dependent. [6873/00]
Mr. Gormley Mr. Gormley
90. Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government has assured itself that the teams working within the Northern Ireland Office, the Police Authority and the RUC on the management of change are representative of the broader society; and if it has assured itself that sufficient external expertise on the management of change and transitional processes are being drawn upon. [6874/00]
Mr. Gormley Mr. Gormley
91. Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government has received copies of the legal advice provided to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which suggested that there were some legal difficulties in asking serving officers to swear a new oath which would commit them to upholding human rights; and, if  so, if it has satisfied itself on the legal advice. [6875/00]
Mr. Cowen Mr. Cowen
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): I propose to take Questions Nos. 87 to 91, inclusive, together.
The Good Friday Agreement provided the opportunity “For a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland with a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole”. In pursuit of this objective, an Independent Commission on Policing was established under the Chairmanship of Chris Patten to “Bring forward proposals for future policing structures and arrangements, including means of encouraging widespread community support for those arrangements”. The Patten report, published in September 1999, comprehensively addressed the full range of important and sensitive issues related to policing. The Government, at the time, welcomed the report and said that the early and effective implementation of its recommendations would form an essential aspect of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement as a whole.
On Wednesday 19 January, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made a statement in the House of Commons setting out the British Government's position on the implementation of the Patten report. The Government welcomed the British Government's decision to accept the great majority of the proposals. The Taoiseach, in welcoming the Secretary of State's statement of 19 January, looked forward to seeing “a detailed implementation plan and the early publication of the necessary legislation following on from today's statement”.
The British Government is currently preparing a new Bill on policing in Northern Ireland, as well as preparing specific implementation plans. Regular discussions have taken place and the need for balance in the approach to implementing the report's recommendations, including in the composition of implementation teams, has been consistently stressed.
The Patten report considered that “A mechanism is needed to oversee the changes required of all those involved in the development of the new policing arrangements, and to assure the community that all aspects of our report are being implemented and being seen to be implemented”. The Government considers that the speedy appointment of an oversight commissioner is key to the effective implementation of the report. The Government has engaged in detailed discussions with the British authorities on the role of the commissioner and possible candidates.
There are a number of factors which will determine the pace of change to policing in Northern Ireland. One is the length of time required to prepare complex and detailed draft legislation and to steer it through the various stages of the legislative process in the British Parliament. Another very important factor is the appointment of the  oversight commissioner. A third, as the Patten report noted is that the implementation of some recommendations may depend, to some extent, “on how the security situation develops”. We remain in close contact with the British authorities on all issues affecting the speed of implementation, including the question of security assessments.
The Patten report recommended that “There should be a new oath, taken individually by all new and existing police officers, expressing an explicit commitment to upholding human rights”. In detailed discussions with the British Government, we clearly expressed our opinion that it would be preferable that all recommendations of the Patten report, including the requirement of a new oath to be taken by all officers, should be fully implemented. On 19 January 2000, the Secretary of State announced the acceptance of the new police oath, as proposed by Patten. However, the oath was to be taken only by new recruits to the police service. The Secretary of State said that he did not “Believe it appropriate for already attested officers to take the oath, which would in any case raise significant legal difficulties”. The nature of the difficulties was clarified in discussion. All officers would, however, be required to uphold fundamental human rights and accord equal respect to all individuals.
The Secretary of State confirmed that serving officers would be required to behave in accordance with a new code of ethics, provided for in legislation, and emphasising, like the new oath, the priority to be given to human rights. Although the new oath will not be universally applied, the Government welcomes the fact that all officers will be required to fulfil their duties in accordance with the human rights-based approach recommended by Patten.
In relation to the special branch, the report recommended, as a first step, that the “Special branch and crime branch should be brought together under the command of a single assistant chief constable”. In his statement on 19 January, the Secretary of State confirmed that the “Special branch and CID will both be retained and placed under a single assistant chief constable, as the chief constable believes is desirable, when the security situation permits”.
The report also recommended that “The support units of special branch should be amalgamated into the wider police service”, and that “Officers should not spend such long periods in security work as has been common in the past”.
Both Governments are agreed on the absolute necessity of bringing about a police service which is fully representative in ethos and composition of the community it serves. The recommendations contained in the Patten report have the potential to bring about such a service – one which is professional, effective, accountable, representative and widely accepted. The sooner these recommendations are implemented, the nearer we will be to achieving the kind of police service envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.
Dáil Éireann 515 Written Answers. Northern Ireland Police Service.