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Thursday, August 26, 1999 Published at 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK

UK: Northern Ireland

Unionists voice fears on police reform

RUC numbers expected to fall if IRA ceasefire holds

Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland have been voicing further disquiet about the future of the Royal Ulster Constabulary following renewed media speculation on the likely conclusions of a review commission.

Former Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten and his team have drawn up extensive proposals for reform of the RUC and these are due to be published early in September.

Their document is known to contain close to 200 recommendations.

The Search for Peace
The press reports, which are understood to stem from an unofficial briefing rather than any leak of the top secret report, suggested that the RUC would be re-named the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The BBCs Tom Coulter is interviewed on latest speculation about reforms to the RUC
The force's oath of allegience to the Crown has already disappeared and it is expected that the uniform and badge will change.

The Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, has already said publicly that a "peace time" police service would be between 6,000 and 7,000.

Professor Brendan O'Leary of the London School of Economics assesses the political ramifications of the proposals
Senior figures in the Northern Ireland Police Authority have also recently acknowleged that the imminent reforms will scrap the body and replace it with a watchdog with greater powers.

The new body would also be more representative of of the Northern Ireland community as a whole.

The present Authority is considered by nationalists to be unrepresentative of their side of the community.

[ image: Chris Patten: report due out in September]
Chris Patten: report due out in September
The latest media reports also say Patten will recommend the disbandment of the RUC reserve.

But terms such as "disbandment" will not feature in the report. One source said the language of the report would be managerial and not political.

The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, said Chris Patten must confirm or deny what he call the "leaked report".

"If the leaks on policing are accurate then the Patten Commission has failed and the report should be consigned to the bin," he said.

[ image: David Trimble:
David Trimble: "Patten should confirm or deny reports"
"Good sensible points may be contained in the report but they will be lost in the controversy that will follow from two fatal errors.

"The symbolic changes, particularly to the honoured name of the existing service, are a savage repudiation of the present force, the people in it and those who have served and sacrificed for the community."

Mr Trimble's deputy, John Taylor, described the reports as shocking and predicted a huge backlash if the RUC's name was altered.

Unionist MP Rev Martin Smyth: RUC name change horrendous if true
UUP MP Rev Martin Smyth said he was horrified that again an attempt would be made to placate republicans by sacrificing the name of the RUC.

He said it was a proud force in which Protestants and Catholics had served the community with distinction over the years, many to their cost.

The Democratic Unionist Party's Gregory Campbell said if the reports were true, the changes to be proposed by Patten would be anathema to every unionist in Northern Ireland and even to many moderate nationalists.

The chief constable said on Wednesday night that a number of people, including disabled officers and the widows of those killed while serving in the force felt strongly about its name.

But he insisted his force "stood ready for change" and said he had every confidence in the Patten Commission.

Chris Patten will recommend that the report is not "cherrypicked" . But when it goes out to consultation before final decisions are taken, its recommendations are sure to divide Northern Ireland's politicians.

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