Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 8th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Smith of Clifton Lord Smith of Clifton Liberal Democrat 6:45 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, in speaking to the first group of amendments, and in opposing them, I shall begin with an observation. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has pointed out, debates on Northern Ireland issues in your Lordships' House inevitably lack an important dimension. While the concerns of the Unionist community are given a full airing--and quite properly so--those of the nationalist community, almost axiomatically, are not so directly heard. The other place has at least the constitutional Nationalist opinion expressed by the three SDLP Members of Parliament. There is no authentic nationalist voice in our debates, in the same way that the British-Irish interparliamentary body is deprived of any direct unionist contribution to its debates because the unionists decline to participate in its activities.

I am neither pro-unionist nor pro-nationalist, but I think that it is important to stress the disadvantage under which noble Lords labour by not having nationalist opinion directly reflected in their debates in the same way as that of unionist opinion. As I have said, I am not in any way partisan as between any legitimate aspirations, be they unionist or nationalist, but I recognise the objective fact here; namely, the strength of nationalist feeling on the issues of policing in Northern Ireland.

In my time in Northern Ireland, I can honestly say that I never came across either a Catholic family or a Catholic authority that would encourage younger members of their community to consider a job in the RUC. I accept the fact of intimidation, but that is by no means the whole story. The name, with its distant historical legacy, is an impediment to Catholic recruitment. Members on all sides of your Lordships' House have expressed a strong wish to see Catholics serve in much greater numbers in the newly established police service--ultimately to the point where the number of Catholic police officers is proportional to the number of Catholics in the population as a whole. That will not happen, as Patten recognised, unless Catholic parents, Catholic political leaders and the Catholic hierarchy feel able to encourage Catholic recruitment to the police service.

A number of noble Lords have already said that a change of name is a necessary prerequisite for the new start for policing in Northern Ireland, based on the consent of both communities. Such a change need in no way detract from the achievements of the RUC in the recent past, but a change of name addresses the future purposefully and positively.