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N. Ireland Police Reform Plan Is Key Demand Of Catholic Groups - 2001-08-17


Britain has published its plan to reform the police force in Northern Ireland, one of the keys to rescue the troubled province's peace process. The reform plan already is drawing criticism from hard-line unionist and republican politicians.

The 70-page report issued Friday provides a roadmap for overhauling the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Northern Ireland's police force.

The proposed reforms would abolish a controversial reserve force, close an anti-terrorist interrogation center and allow more citizen control over special investigations.

Police reform has been a key demand of republicans, who are mostly Catholic and who have long distrusted the Protestant-dominated police force.

Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary of State, John Reid, says his goal is for a police force that will have equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant recruits. "The community here," he says, "deserves no less than a police service which not only is effective but one which has the widest possible support."

However, hard-line republican and unionist politicians are already criticizing the proposed reforms.

The chairman of the republican Sinn Fein party, Mitchel McLaughlin, says the reforms do not go far enough, and will not satisfy the Catholic community.

From the Ulster Unionist Party, politician Silvia Hermon says there are too many concessions to republicans in the reform package. She is especially upset about a proposed name-change for the Royal Ulster Constabulary. "There were 302 dead police officers who wore the uniform of the RUC and who died as serving police officers and their memory must not be lost or be distorted," Ms. Hermon said. "The change of the name has been handled with great insensitivity, I have to say."

Northern Ireland Secretary Reid has asked all parties to reply by Tuesday to an invitation to join a police board to oversee implementation of the reforms.