Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 8th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan UUP 8:15 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 27 I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 28 and 29.

As I have said before, there are many aspects of Patten and of the Bill which are positive, particularly those of an operational nature, and I have no difficulty in supporting them. However, there are areas of the Bill which I believe to be fundamentally flawed and which will not produce an effective police force. The proposal that Belfast should be divided into four district policing partnerships falls into that category.

These amendments are designed to rectify that and to ensure that policing the City of Belfast is not balkanised into four sub-divisions, which sadly afflict too many parts of the city of which I am proud to be a citizen.

In mainland terms Belfast is not particularly large; there are no more than 300,000 or so electors. While Belfast may currently be divided by the RUC into four local areas of command, they do not mirror the four parliamentary constituencies and they extend out far beyond the city boundaries.

I have no doubt that 300,000 could be more effectively and efficiently served by one police local area command. I am concerned about the likely consequences which would follow the establishment of four local area commands in Belfast. Those four commands will all be mirrored, monitored, potentially dominated and influenced by district policing partnerships. Four for Belfast is just too many.

At grass-roots level, the police would be put under intolerable sectarian and party-political pressures. If anyone doubts that, let them imagine for a moment just how the recent loyalist paramilitary feud in the Shankhill area and more recently in other parts of north Belfast might have been policed if policing was subject to local policing boards. The political representatives of the UVF and the UDA would have used their positions on the north Belfast sub-committee to bring pressure to bear on the police to take sides in their own internecine feud.

One can scarcely imagine just how keenly the paramilitary front parties would support the police in their attempts to crack down on drug dealing and racketeering. Furthermore, the west Belfast sub-committee of the DPP would be almost exclusively republican nationalists; effectively Sinn Fein/IRA. Just how would that square with police investigations into the recent murders in that area allegedly carried out by their allies and the Provisional IRA?

In a similar vein, the east Belfast DPP sub-committee would be almost exclusively loyalist and unionist; again with a substantial degree of input from the UDA and the UVF. The religious and political mix in the south of the city, an area in which I live, would at least ensure some measure of cross-community representation on the DPP sub-committee for that area, but there is no question that a city-wide committee would provide the best opportunity for diluting the insidiousness of the paramilitaries.

A Belfast-wide district policing partnership would dilute the influence of parties whose support is concentrated in particular areas. While Sinn Fein/IRA might have near 70 per cent support in west Belfast, the figure is much lower across the city. Just as it would be wrong to leave policing in west Belfast in the hands of republicans, so it would be wrong to place policing in east Belfast in the hands of loyalists. The decent law-abiding citizens of these areas should not and cannot be abandoned to their fate--and what a fate it would be if we allowed that to happen.

Perhaps I may leave your Lordships with this thought: the City of Belfast is divided enough as it is. It is scarred by peace lines and sectarian ghettos. Just about the last thing it needs is a police force divided into four and under the control of the malevolent forces which deal in the violence, fear and terror which have cursed its streets for too long. I beg to move.