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Written Answers. - Northern Ireland Issues.

Tuesday, 3 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 4

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 228. Mr. Crowe Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  his views on the decision of the British Government to allow former political prisoners to serve on local policing boards in the North. [24384/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen The report of the Patten Commission recommended the creation of district policing partnership boards in every district council area across Northern Ireland. It also recommended that each DPPB should be composed of a majority of elected councillors, the remaining independent members to be selected by the local council with the agreement of the policing board. As with the board, it was intended that each body would be broadly representative of the community in terms of religion, gender, age and cultural background. When the British Government accepted these proposals in principle, it indicated that the bodies would be called district policing partnerships (DPPs).

These bodies are intended to be the key institutions for promoting community policing, and for delivering decentralised democratic accountability to policing at the local level. Because of its disproportionate size, four sub-groups of the DPP are to be established in the Belfast District Council area, representing north, south, east and west Belfast.

Under the Police (NI) Act, 2000, DPPs are (i) to provide views to the local Police District Commander and to the Policing Board on any matter concerning the policing of the district, (ii) to monitor the performance of the police service in carrying out the policing plan in relation to the district, (iii) to make arrangements for obtaining the views of the public about local policing and for obtaining the co-operation of the public with the police in preventing crime and (iv) to act as a general forum for discussion and consultation on matters affecting the policing of the district.

The Police Act included a disqualification clause which stated that: “a person is disqualified for being a member of a DPP if he has at any [1062] time been convicted in Northern Ireland or elsewhere of any offence and has had passed on him a sentence of imprisonment (whether suspended or not)”. This bar applied to independent members only, not the political members of DPPs, i.e. local elected councillors.

Following on from agreement at Weston Park and the publication of the Revised Implementation Plan in the summer of 2001, the British Government published draft clauses on 25 November last in advance of new policing legislation being introduced in the immediate future. These clauses are intended to bring the Police (NI) Act, 2000 into line with the Patten Report in certain key areas.

In addition, the British Government also published a separate “Text for Consideration” which included draft clauses to expand the powers of the Belfast DPP sub-groups and to lift the bar on ex-prisoners becoming independent members of DPPs. The latter clause specifies that any candidate for independent membership who has been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment is only eligible after a period of five years from the time of his/her discharge – whether on licence or not. In addition, they must make a “declaration against terrorism” in the form set out in the Elected Authorities (NI) Act, 1989, i.e. the declaration made by councillors in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Paul Murphy, has indicated that this clause will be introduced only “in the context of acts of completion” by paramilitaries. He spoke of the logic of ex-prisoners serving on DPPs and playing a role in community policing, but only if all paramilitary groups, republican and loyalists, become inactive: “any reasonable person can see there is logic to ex-prisoners playing a role in building community policing, but only the most unreasonable could imagine this happening while the paramilitary organisations to which they owe allegiance are still active”.

In welcoming the Patten Report, the Government agreed with its recommendation that paramilitary ex-prisoners could play a helpful role in building confidence and connections between their communities and the police service, hence the logic of ex-prisoners joining the DPPs, either as elected councillors or as independent members. For that reason, we considered the inclusion of the disqualification clause in the Police (NI) Act, 2000 not to be in keeping with the inclusive and visionary spirit of the Patten Report and, indeed, of the Good Friday Agreement. We very much welcome the recent announcement by the British Government that it would reverse that decision and remove the disqualification clause in an appropriate context.

The criteria for that context are set out in the Good Friday Agreement. The arrangements regarding policing, including in regard to the structures of accountability, should ensure, inter alia, that the police service is professional, effective and efficient, fair and impartial, and capable of maintaining law and order including [1063] responding effectively to crime and to any terrorist threat and to public order problems. Above all, they should be such that they attract and sustain support from the community as a whole.


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