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Press release issued by the Police Authority for Northern Ireland on the publication of the Police (NI) Bill, 19 May 2000

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Research: Fionnuala McKenna
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Press release issued by the Police Authority for Northern Ireland on the publication of the Police (NI) Bill, 19 May 2000.

The Police Authority today expressed ‘deep concern’ about the new Police (NI) Bill 2000.

Authority Chairman Pat Armstrong stressed that although the body was reluctant to criticise new legislation it felt it had no alternative.

"The Police Authority hoped to have been able to give the same broad welcome to this Bill which it gave to the Patten report when it was published.

"We want to see policing in Northern Ireland move forward. Although the main public focus on this legislation so far has been about the name and symbols of the police service, we feel that damaging limitations on the powers of the new Policing Board represent the real meat of the debate.

"The Police Authority has worked vigilantly for the last thirty years to ensure police accountability to the people of Northern Ireland and to protect the police service from political intervention. In doing so we have made no secret of the fact that our powers have always been severely limited by the restrictions imposed on us by successive Secretaries of State.

" We therefore welcomed Patten’s proposal and believed it would at long last create a strong, independent and powerful Policing Board for the community at large.

"Worryingly, the early signs in this Bill are that the Secretary of State is trying to curb the powers of this new Board and substantially weaken its credibility before it even gets off the ground.

" While we haven’t had the opportunity to analyse the full impact of the Secretary of tate’s proposals, it seems that if the legislation goes through as it stands, the new Policing Board could actually have less power then the current Police Authority – a situation we find ludicrous and totally unacceptable."

"Police planning and financial control are two key areas where it seems the new Board will have a reduced role, while the Secretary of State enjoys greater influence.

"And where the Board was supposed to get new powers, it seems rigid restrictions have been imposed. On the power to initiate enquiries for example, it is difficult to see how the Board could ever satisfy all the conditions required by the Secretary of State."

"This is not the first time that Government has attempted to control policing in Northern Ireland. In our original submission to the Patten Commission we catalogued consistent attempts by Government over the years to suppress the powers of the Police Authority.

"Successive Authorities have resisted such attempts by Government to directly influence policing and we will continue to do so in guarding against any weakening of the powers envisaged by Patten for the new Policing Board. The Patten report itself stated, ‘ we do not believe the Secretary of State…should ever appear to have the power to direct the police.’- this obviously signalled a clear intention on the Commission’s part to curtail the powers of Government – not enhance them as the proposed legislation seems set to do. "

Mr Armstrong however said the Authority supported much of the legislation including the apparent safeguards put in place to prevent District Policing Partnerships raising money for ‘freelance’ police services. He added that more time would be needed to examine all the issues in detail.

The Authority will shortly publish an in-depth analysis of the Government’s proposed Patten legislation and implementation plan.

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