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Peter Hadden

Patten Report on RUC

Changing the Symbols but Not the Substance

(September 1999)

From The Socialist [UK], 3 September 1999.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

The Patten report on the future of the RUC promises to be another difficult hurdle for the already flagging participants in the peace process. The report is due out in the second week of September but details have been leaked, probably to gauge the local political reaction.

If the leaks are correct the RUC will be renamed, the bottle green uniform will go, the insignia will change, the union jack will no longer fly above police stations, there will be a new oath which does not mention the Queen and the force will be cut down, with the 3,000-strong, full-time reserve an early casualty.

All of this was predictable from the early days of the peace process. The ruling class recognises that the partisan and sectarian history of the RUC makes it unacceptable in its present form in Catholic areas.

They want to eradicate the worst sectarian features of the RUC but to retain a centralised police force that can be used in all areas. The Patten commission held public meetings across Northern Ireland and heard the often heated views of hundreds of people. Republicans argued for the scrapping of the RUC. Unionists spoke in its defence.

The Socialist Party participated in some of these meetings and argued that the RUC should be replaced by locally based community police services which should be run by democratically elected police committees.

The idea of community policing was widely accepted. So was the notion that there should be local control. The leaked findings indicate that the Commission was forced to pay lip service to these ideas.

The current toothless watchdog body, the Police Authority, is to go – to be replaced by a body made up of Assembly members on which Sinn Fein would have two seats. Beyond these there are to be local bodies in the District Council areas with cross-party representation, presumably to be decided by local party strength. These local bodies would be given funds to purchase additional police services from private security firms.

All this has nothing to do with democratically controlled local policing. The problem with the present Police Authority goes beyond its composition. It is a purely advisory body.

Security firms

The real control of the RUC rests with its senior officers and the Secretary of State. There is no indication that this is to change. The idea behind the “additional” local policing is not to involve local communities. It is to integrate a section of the paramilitaries into the state apparatus. It would be a green light for paramilitaries to set up “security firms” and to tender for contracts.

While the leaked findings have been predictable so too has the reaction. Republicans may welcome some of the changes but overall the report will not go far enough to satisfy grassroots opinion that the RUC should be dissolved not repackaged. Unionists have responded furiously, although they must have been well aware of what the report would recommend.

Anti-Agreement unionists will certainly try to use this issue to help derail this month’s review of the peace process. There have also been rumblings of discontent from the RUC, with rumours that several senior officers are preparing to organise non co-operation with its implementation.

If the Patten findings are implemented the result is liable to be a mish-mash. Removing emblems and changing uniforms is not going to overnight eliminate the sectarianism that is deeply rooted in the RUC.

Attaching a few localised “security firms” is not going to integrate those who have been involved in the conflict into a new unified state force. The real aim of Patten is to devise a centralised police service, “professionalised” in the sense that it is lifted above the sectarian conflict so that it can be used against both, not just against one, community.

In the absence of a political settlement that overcomes the sectarian division it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the ruling class to devise such an instrument. The new police “service”, if it is set up, is likely to be as uncomfortable a fudge as has everything else in the peace process.

It is important that there is not just a sectarian reaction to Patten, but that a working class view is heard. Neither RUC nor paramilitary “justice” offers any answer. Nor does some convoluted combination of both. The call for democratic and accountable local policing services can win the united support of Protestant and Catholic workers.

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