Reid reveals NI police reform plan
BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- New proposals on police reform in Northern Ireland have been published to widespread criticism from Catholics and Protestants.
The Police Implementation Plan is designed to replace the Royal Ulster Constabulary with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
It has been put forward as part of an overall peace process rescue package drawn up by the British and Irish governments.
Among the reforms announced by Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid on Friday is the prospect of RUC's Special Branch being cut in half by next month.
The eagerly awaited implementation plan also accepts that the 2,400-strong full-time reserve should be phased out over a three-year period.
The document has revised all 175 recommendations in the Patten Report into reforming policing in the province.
Among these is the acceptance that the Special Branch should be merged into the wider police service, subject to the security situation.
It said: "The Chief Constable aims, by September 2001, to amalgamate into the wider police service those units commonly referred to as support units.
"This would, by that stage, have reduced the size of Special Branch by around 50 percent."
Reid, who gave the parties until midday on Tuesday to declare if they were prepared to join the new force's board, urged all sides to back the policing plan, which he said was a blueprint for positive and fundamental change.
He said it was not about compromise to one side or the other but about effective policing, well resourced, backed by all.
Reid said not every aspect of the plan would please everyone and he regretted some people had already rejected the scheme, which he said was radical and rational.
But he told a news conference: "It offers unprecedented opportunities for a new start, a real partnership to policing.
"For many it holds out an unprecedented challenge, because it matches the challenge to the rights they have long asked for, by now shouldering the responsibility of entering into that partnership and making it work for the benefit of the whole community.
"We can change the structure. I can lay the foundations. We can lay out the plan, but we cannot change hearts and minds where there is no openness and no willingness to change."
RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan said he hoped the plan would have cross-community support.
He said: "If the plan receives widespread cross-community support, I have no doubt it will be a blueprint for effective policing.
"The RUC stands ready to energetically play its part in implementing those parts of the plan for which it has responsibility."
But Republicans, already mired in controversy over the arrest of three alleged top Provisional IRA men in Colombia, have already rejected the 70-page package, which was shown in private to pro-Good Friday Agreement parties earlier this month.
And Ulster Unionists, whose support is essential if the devolved regime in Belfast is to get back on course, maintained they would not consider the issue of policing without IRA disarmament.
Ian Paisley Jr. of the Democratic Unionist Party claimed the revised police implementation plan would only compound the "decimation" of the RUC while still failing to "buy off" republicans.
"This was designed to be a further concession to Sinn Fein," Paisley told the UK Press Association ahead of the plan's publication.
A Ulster Unionist Party spokesman said: "We're in no position to accept or reject any type of policing proposals until the governments have the four parts of the package in place, the other three being normalisation, the criminal justice review and decommissioning."
Publication of the plan comes amid renewed tension in the troubled peace process.
The political parties and the two governments have just over five weeks to resolve wranglings over policing and the criminal justice system, demilitarisation and weapons.
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble withdrew as first minister of the power-sharing executive at the end of June because of the IRA's failure to disarm.
His party has since refused to commit to the institutions again until the republican paramilitaries start giving up their guns.
Sinn Fein Chairman Mitchel McLaughlin says the proposals do not go far enough.
He said: "It does not constitute a genuine attempt to bridge the gap between republican and nationalist aspirations for a proper and consensual approach to policing.
"Key issues which need to be resolved have not been resolved."
His party, meanwhile, has insisted it has no knowledge of the activities of the three men detained in Bogota, and accused British intelligence of hyping up the arrests to stall demilitarisation moves in Northern Ireland.
James Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly were taken into custody last weekend on suspicion of training members of the Marxist guerrilla group FARC, a major exporter of drugs to the U.S.
Colombian investigators are expected to decide within four days whether to prosecute them.
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