PALLONE CALLS ON PRIME MINISTERS BLAIR & AHERN TO FULLY IMPLEMENT GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT
"Last week, the Helsinki Commission, also known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, held a hearing on the issue of Policing in Northern Ireland. I want to commend the commission for holding this hearing on this timely issue and to add my voice to a growing list of influential individuals who have called on the British Government to reform the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
"Six years ago next month, the people of Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland entered into a peace agreement, commonly referred to as the Good Friday Agreement. This legendary accord set out a framework that would allow Northern Ireland to govern itself and provide for a rule of law that was responsible to all people in the North of Ireland.
"Unfortunately, six years later, much of the agreement has been stalled, derailed, or never implemented. Most notably, the one issue that the British Government has refused to address after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement is that of police reform. For a true and lasting peace to exist in Northern Ireland reforming the police service is a must.
"The Good Friday Agreement gave the people of Northern Ireland great hope that they would see a change in the way policing is handled. Soon after the Agreement was signed, the British Government commissioned Christopher Patten to review the police service in Northern Ireland. The Patten Commission spent months researching past abuses by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Eventually, they recommended several reforms to policing in Northern Ireland, including the end of the 'Special Branch' of the RUC, begin a program that would recruit ethnic and religious
minorities into the police service and create a process of civil review.
"While, the Patten Commission recommendations did not address all of the policing issues in Northern Ireland, they were a good starting point. Unfortunately, to date, Great Britain has not instituted any of these reforms.
"Policing in Northern Ireland is not only an issue of fairness but of basic human rights. Following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement the British Government dissolved the RUC and replaced it officially with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Unfortunately, this new police service is the same old, same old, with a new fancy name. What you really find when you look below the surface of its new name, is that the PSNI is no more representative or fair than the RUC.
"The PSNI remains unrepresentative of the community it polices. There are presently over 9,000 members of the PSNI. However, as of October 2003, only 11.6 percent are Catholics, while nearly one half of all residents of Northern Ireland call themselves Catholics.
"The PSNI has also refused to stop using plastic bullets. Patten recommended research into alternatives to these inhuman policing tools and the rapid withdrawal of their use. The British government also gave a commitment to replace plastic bullets by the end of 2003. Today, plastic bullets continue to be used by the PSNI.
"The people of Northern Ireland do not feel safe and rarely rely on their public police services. Citizens are not calling the PSNI when they need assistance. They are afraid that the police will violate their rights rather than protect them in their time of need.
"I call on Prime Ministers Blair and Ahern to fully implement the Good Friday Agreement and immediately institute the Patten Commission's recommendations. For a lasting peace to survive in Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Agreements must be given the chance to fully succeed.
"Unfortunately, the Peace Process cannot move forward. A small faction of individuals in Northern Ireland, many who are adamantly opposed to the Accords, are holding the future of the peace agreement hostage. They have been successful in influencing the British Government to put the Agreement and the power sharing government on hold and therefore putting the Good Friday Agreement and the fragile peace in a dangerous position.
"Most recently, these opponents have convinced Britain not to seat the new Belfast Assembly, even though elections were held some 3 months ago. These elections, which saw record turnouts, were finally held this past November. However, to date, Prime Minister Blair has refused to reinstitute the Belfast Assembly.
"As one can easily observe, the peace in Northern Ireland is hanging by a thread. Prime Minister Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern must bring all sides back to the table and reinstitute the Belfast Assembly. Peace in Northern Ireland is finally within our grasp. The parties involved, which all signed those historic accords some six years ago, must now just live up to the agreement and allow the people of Northern Ireland to govern themselves freely and fairly."