Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 15th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan UUP 6:00 pm, 15th November 2000

My Lords, as noble Lords are aware, the Bill was first brought before this House on 13th July of this year. As noble Lords are also aware, Northern Ireland has yet to be in an era of peace and all terrorism has yet to end. Paramilitaries have continued to ignore the clear message that the people of Northern Ireland sent to them at the time of the referendum on the Belfast agreement. That message was that the people of Northern Ireland do not want violence.

Yet since 13th July of this year we have had loyalists killing loyalists and republicans killing republicans. We have had bomb attacks at Armagh barracks, at Magilligan army camp and at Stewartstown. We have had a grenade launcher attack on the MI6 building here in London. We have had explosive finds, at Hannahstown for a bomb which was destined for England, detonator finds and weapon finds. On many occasions we have had incendiary devices. But because of the conscientiousness and diligence with which the RUC carries out its duty, we have had numerous foiled attacks.

The incident on 10th August in Londonderry which led to the large explosives find in Donegal is but only one example of this conscientiousness and diligence. With such a high number of attempted operations, it was as inevitable as it was tragic that two weeks ago--as the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, mentioned--we witnessed the attack on the Castlewellan police station where a police officer lost his leg. Unfortunately, some people at home would term such a despicable act "a success". But where is the success in leaving a husband and a father maimed for life? That so-called "success" is insufficient for the terrorists. Only last week we had the attempted so-called "barrack buster" attack in County Fermanagh, planned to take place on Remembrance Sunday--as if people in Northern Ireland have forgotten or could ever forget the horror of the last Remembrance Sunday attack in County Fermanagh.

What do we get from Sinn Fein? We have a return to "the refusal to condemn" such acts. Instead, it offers a mere acknowledgement that such an attack would "not help anyone".

Sinn Fein/IRA started condemning republican and dissident attacks after the Omagh tragedy, and yet how quickly they have forgotten Omagh, a horror that is permanently etched in the minds of the people of Northern Ireland and so deeply etched in the minds of the citizens of Omagh.

The Patten report stems from the Belfast agreement. That agreement was designed to provide for, as well as bring about, a peaceful Northern Ireland and an end to all terrorism. The Patten report is largely based on the Chief Constable's fundamental review which provided for policing in Northern Ireland in a terrorist-free environment. Unfortunately, at this time, the police are not operating in a terrorist-free environment and all terrorism has not ended.

The terrorism we have experienced in Northern Ireland over the past few months, and the terrorism we are experiencing at the moment, are not the residue of over 30 years of terrorism. We are not witnessing the death of the ideology of terrorism in Northern Ireland. What we have in Northern Ireland is a steady level of attack from operational so-called loyalist and republican terrorists.

The police in Northern Ireland require the capability to deal with this terrorist activity. If the Bill is enacted in its present form, the police will not have the capability to counter the continuing terrorist threat.

Several aspects of the Bill in particular will have an adverse effect on the morale of the police service and on its ability to counter terrorism, especially, in the light of the welcome decreasing army presence and the dismantling of many military installations. The Bill provides for the downsizing of numbers of police officers and the phasing out of the police reserve. To compound the effect of the downsizing, the police will now experience recruitment problems as a consequence of the discriminatory recruitment system referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead.

Therefore, we shall have a smaller police force continuing to combat terrorist and non-terrorist crime. Yet it was reported only last Monday in the Belfast Telegraph that Northern Ireland is about to experience a crime crisis. Unfortunately, crime figures in Northern Ireland show an increase in reported crime. However, in the previous financial year it was reported that downsizing will proceed. The police would still require a large number of officers to combat non-terrorist crime, even if all terrorism did indeed come to an end. The police authority recently reported a £15 million shortage in police funding with respect to its ability to deal with crime.

The morale of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is at an all-time low. Pushing forward aspects of the Bill, such as the removal of the title "Royal Ulster Constabulary" for operational purposes and the changing of the cap badge could push depressingly low morale to critical levels.

It has been reported that the Royal Ulster Constabulary currently has 1,200 or so officers off sick. That is approximately 10 per cent of its total manpower. That leaves the police with 10 per cent fewer effective officers to respond to 10 per cent more crime. If the Bill is enacted immediately, consider how many more officers will be sick--sick at the name change, the badge reforms, and the downsizing in the light of the continuing terrorist threat.

A moratorium on Patten is essential in order to salvage morale within the ranks of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and in order to have a police force capable of combating the continued threat of terrorism and the spiralling crime rates in Northern Ireland, especially in the city of Belfast.

The amendment would pause these police reforms until such time as Northern Ireland makes the change into an era of peace, when bombs have stopped exploding and lives have stopped being lost through terrorism. The Mafia sub-culture in Northern Ireland will embrace the Bill with open arms as one that weakens police effectiveness when terrorism continues to exist as a sponge to so many police hours.

The sense of hurt and sadness which is felt by those in Northern Ireland who respect law and order has been eloquently expressed, if not always understood, throughout the passage of the Bill.

The Ulster Unionist Party leader, in another place, referred to the Royal Ulster Constabulary when he said to the Prime Minister:

"Nothing the Government say or do can dishonour the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the officers who have served in it, but they can dishonour and are dishonouring themselves".

Bearing in mind the Bill, I completely agree with that statement.

The demand for a moratorium on police reform until all terrorism has ended is not a demand based on the honour of the RUC, as the Government have demonstrated that they have no respect for the honour of the RUC. The demand for the moratorium on policing is based on the necessity for an effective police service in Northern Ireland. I commend the amendment to the House. I beg to move.