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Expressing the Sense of House on the Peace Process in Northern Ireland

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith
    US












House of Representative

106th Congress, Second Session

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman) for his leadership on this very important issue, as well as the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Neal), the gentleman from New York (Mr. Crowley), and my good friend, the gentleman from New York (Mr. King), who has been indefatigable for many years on this important issue. Mr. Speaker, I think the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Neal) is right in pointing out that this is a bipartisan effort, and we are trying to send a clear non-ambiguous message to the British Government that we are looking at their policing bill, that we looked at it very carefully, and it falls far, far short.

 

Last Friday, as chairman of the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights and as chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I held my sixth hearing in a series of hearings which have delved into the status of human rights in the North of Ireland and the deplorable human rights record of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the RUC, Northern Ireland’s police force. Our panel of experts were emphatic about the gap that exists between the recommendations of the Patten Commission on policing reform and the bill that the British Government has now put forth in their attempt to comply with the Good Friday Agreement’s instructions to ‘craft a new beginning to policing.’

 

Professor Brendan O’Leary, one of our witnesses from the London School of Economics and Political Science, testified that the pending police bill is, quote, ‘a poorly disguised façade’ that does not implement the Patten report. He said it was, and I quote again, ‘mendaciously misleading’ for Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State, Peter Mandelson, to suggest that his government’s bill implements the Patten report. Professor O’Leary reported that the bill improved at the Commons stage, yet he testified that the British government’s bill is still very ‘insufficient.’ He called it a ‘bloodless ghost’ of Patten and referred to it as ‘Patten light.’

 

Similarly, Martin O’Brien, the great human rights activist and the Director of the Committee on Administration of Justice, an independent human rights organization in Belfast, expressed his organization’s, quote, ‘profound disappointment at the developments since the publication of the Patten report.’ He said that ‘only a third or less of Patten’s recommendations resulted in proposals for legislative change.’ Mr. O’Brien reported that `a study of the draft seems to confirm the view that the British government is unwilling,’ his words, `to put Patten’s agenda into practical effect.’ He called it `a very far cry from the Patten report’ and said `despite much lobbying and extensive changes in the course of the parliamentary process to date, there is still a very long way to go.’

 

Elisa Massimino, from the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, testified that the bill `falls far short of the Patten recommendations’ and she pointed to many discrepancies to illustrate this. And Dr. Gerald Lynch, the President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and an American appointee to the Patten Commission, restated the Commission’s unanimous support for full implementation and warned, in his words, `that the recommendations should not be cherry picked but must be implemented in a cohesive and constructive manner.’

 

Mr. Speaker, the witnesses at last week’s hearings, as well as witnesses at previous hearings, as well as in correspondences that we have all received and in the meetings that we have had throughout this Capitol and in Belfast and elsewhere, policing has been the issue. In fact last year we had Chris Patten himself and the U.N. Special Rapporteur to Northern Ireland, Param Cumaraswamy, speak to our subcommittee. They too pointed to police reform as the essence of real reform in Northern Ireland. It is critical to note, then, that despite the progress to date, the British government is at a critical crossroads on the path to peace in Northern Ireland. The British government has the sole opportunity and responsibility for making police reform either the linchpin or the Achilles heel of the Good Friday Agreement. Accordingly, our legislation today calls upon the British government to fully and faithfully implement the recommendations contained in the Patten Commission report. The bill is the culmination of years of work in terms of trying to get everyone to the point where they have a transparent police force that is not wedded to secrecy and cover-up of human rights abuses.

 

Mr. Speaker, H. Res. 547 does get specific. It points out that the police bill in parliament limits the powers of inquiry and investigation envisioned by the Patten report for the Policing Board and the police ombudsman. Remarkably, the police bill gives the Secretary of the State of Ireland a veto authority to prevent a Policing Board inquiry if the inquiry `would serve no useful purpose.’ That just turns the bill into a farce, Mr. Speaker. The British government also prohibits the Policing Board from looking into any acts that occurred before the bill was enacted. The British government’s bill also denies the ombudsman the authority to investigate police policies and practices and restricts her ability to look at past complaints against police officers. And the bill restricts the new oversight commissioner to assessing only those changes the British government agrees to, rather than overseeing the implementation of the full range of the Patten recommendations.

 

Mr. Speaker, when Mr. Patten met with our committee, I and many others expressed our disappointment that his report contained no procedure whatsoever for vetting RUC officers who committed human rights abuses in the past. That said, we took some comfort that the Commission at least recommended that existing police officers should affirmingly state a willingness to uphold human rights. Now we learn that the British government’s bill guts even this minimalist recommendation… Mr. Speaker, let us have a unanimous vote for this resolution and send a clear message to our friends on the other side of the pond that we want real reform and that real police reform is the linchpin to the Good Friday Agreement.

 

Accordingly, our legislation today calls upon the British Government to fully and faithfully implement the recommendations contained in the Patten Commission report on policing. Our bill is the culmination of our years of work and it is our urging of an ally to do what is right for peace in Northern Ireland. H. Res. 547 does get specific. It now contains language which I offered at the Committee stage to highlight a few of the most egregious examples where the proposed Police Bill does not live up to either the letter or the spirit of the Patten report. For instance, the Police Bill, as currently drafted, limits the powers of inquiry and investigation envisioned by the Patten report for the Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman. Remarkably, the Police Bill gives the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland a veto authority to prevent a Policing Board inquiry if the inquiry would `serve no useful purpose.’ The bill completely prohibits the Policing Board from looking into any acts that occurred before the bill is enacted. The British Government’s Police Bill also denies the Ombudsman authority to investigate police policies and practices and restricts her ability to look at past complaints against police officers. And the bill restricts the new oversight commissioner to assessing only those changes the British Government agrees to rather than overseeing the implementation of the full range of Patten’s recommendations.

 

Many of the reforms that the Patten Commission recommended, such as those addressing police accountability or the incorporation of international human rights standards into police practices and training, are not issues that divide the nationalist and unionist communities in Northern Ireland. One must ask then, who it is that the Northern Ireland Secretary of State is trying to protect or pacify by failing to implement these recommendations. Our witnesses concluded that the British Government is hiding behind the division between unionist and nationalists on other issues, such as what the police service’s name and symbols will be, to avoid making changes in accountability structures and human rights standards for the police. According to Mr. O’Brien, `these constraints are there apparently to satisfy the concerns of people already in the policing establishment who don’t want change and don’t want the spotlight shown on their past activities or future activities.’ In other words, the future of Northern Ireland is being held captive to the interests of the very police service and other British Government security services that the Good Friday Agreement sought to reform with the creation of the Patten Commission.

 

Mr. Speaker, there should be no doubt about the importance of policing reform in Northern Ireland as it relates to the broader peace process. Mr. O’Brien testified that `the issue of resolution of policing and the transformation of the criminal justice system are at the heart of establishing a lasting peace.’ Dr. Gerald Lynch restated Chris Patten’s oft-repeated statement that `the Good Friday Agreement would come down to the policing issue.’ Professor O’Leary’s comments were even more somber. He said: In the absence of progress on Patten . . . we are likely to see a stalling on possible progress in decommissioning, minimally, and maximally, if one wanted to think of a provocation to send hard line republicans back into full scale conflict, one could think of no better choice of policy than to fail to implement the Patten report . . . I think disaster can follow . . . and may well follow from the failure to implement Patten fully. Both the nationalist and unionist communities supported the Good Friday Agreement and all that it entailed, including police reform. The people of Northern Ireland deserve no less than a police service that they can trust, that is representative of the community it serves, and that is accountable for its actions.

 

In conclusion Mr. Speaker, let me point out to my colleagues that it was two years ago this week that human rights defense attorney Rosemary Nelson testified before my subcommittee expressing her deepest held fear that the RUC, which had made death threats to her and her family through her clients, would one day succeed and kill her. The U.N. Special Rapporteur, Para Cumaraswamy testified at the same hearing that after his investigation in Northern Ireland, he was `satisfied that there was truth in the allegations that defense attorneys were harassed and intimidated’ by members of the RUC. As many people know, Rosemary Nelson was killed, the victim of an assassin’s car bomb just six months after she asked us to take action to protect defense attorneys in Northern Ireland. Her murder is now being investigated, in part, by the RUC, the police force she so feared. If the British government’s Police Bill continues to reject mechanisms for real accountability, we may never know who killed Rosemary Nelson, and defense attorney Patrick Finucane. And sadly the police force may never be rid of those who may have condoned, helped cover-up, or even took part in some of the most egregious human rights abuses in Northern Ireland. I strongly urge my colleagues to support this measure before us today in order to express in the strongest terms possible to the British government our support for implementation of the full Patten report and its very modest recommendations for a `new beginning in policing.’

 

Statement of Gerald W. Lynch, President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York, Before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (The Helsinki Commission), September 22, 2000 Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. I want to thank you for the opportunity to present testimony regarding the work of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, commonly known as the Patten Commission. I would like to discuss the Policing Bill which is before the British Parliament. When I was introduced to the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, she said to me: `How did you get Ted Kennedy and Ronnie Flanagan to agree on you? (Sir Ronnie Flanagan is the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.) I told the Secretary that I believed they agree on me because John Jay College has provided training around the world emphasizing human rights and human dignity. Moreover, John Jay has had an exchange of police and faculty for 30 years with the British police, and for more than 20 years with the Garda, as well as an exchange with the R.U.C. for over 20 years. Over that time there had been hundreds of meetings and interactions among British, Irish and American police and criminal-justice experts. The continuing dialogue had generated an exchange of ideas and technology that was totally professional, and totally non-partisan. Many of John Jay’s exchange scholars have risen to high ranks in Britain, Ireland and America. The current Commissioner of the police of New Scotland Yard, Sir John Stevens, was the exchange scholar at John Jay for the Fall of 1984. I am honored to have been selected to be a member of the Patten Commission. The Patten Report states that: `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 . . . cannot be achieved unless the reality that part of the community feels unable to identify with the present name and symbols associated with the police is addressed. . . . our proposals seek to achieve a situation in which people can be British, Irish or Northern Irish, as they wish, and all regard the police service as their own. We therefore recommend: The Royal Ulster Constabulary should henceforth be named the Northern Ireland Police Service. That the Northern Ireland Police Service adopt a new badge and symbols which are entirely free from any association with either the British or Irish states (We not that the Assembly adopted a crest acceptable to all parties, namely, the symbol of the flax) That the union flag should no longer be flown from police buildings, and that, on those occasions on which it is appropriate to fly a flag on police buildings, the flag should be that of Northern Ireland Police Service, and it, too, should be free from association with the British or Irish states’.

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