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Change of opinion for anti-PSNI priest

(Marie Louise McCrory, Irish News)

A US-based priest known for his staunch criticism of policing in Northern Ireland has spoken of how he found senior police officers to be "fine decent men" during a recent visit to the Belfast training college.

Fr Sean McManus, a native of Co Fermanagh who is president of the Irish National Caucus based in Washington, visited Garnerville PSNI Training Centre last month.

The clergyman said his three-and-a-half-hour visit "was urged and arranged" by the special envoy for Northern Ireland Dr Mitchell Reiss.

Fr McManus said he asked "all the tough questions" during the visit.

"Dr Reiss made the argument to me that, since I have been a long time critic of Northern Ireland policing, I ought to hear in person the PSNI point of view," he said.

"Because of the intrinsic merit of his argument and because of my respect for Dr Reiss and his Office, I consented to the visit.

"I met with Deputy Chief Constable, Paul Leighton and three of his male colleagues.

"Deputy Leighton immediately apologised on behalf of Chief Constable Hugh Orde who could not be present as he was on vacation."

Fr McManus said the senior police officers answered his questions "in an upfront and business-like manner".

"I was impressed by their openness, professionalism and their evident concern to convey their commitment to a 'new beginning' to policing in Northern Ireland," he said.

"They struck me as fine decent men. I found myself, I must confess, wanting to believe that they accurately and authentically reflect the new approach to policing – both institutionally and individually.

"I was also given the opportunity to speak privately [without supervision or recording, I was assured] to about nine recruits, men and women.

"I was impressed by their calibre and enthusiasm."

Fr McManus added: "We all know that an acceptable police service – 'effective and efficient, fair and impartial, free from partisan political control' as envisioned by the Good Friday Agreement – is absolutely essential if the peace-process is to succeed," he said.

"It is my hope that the PSNI can prove to the Catholic community that it can be trusted, that the bad old days are truly over, that sectarianism and collusion are gone, root and branch.

"That means that the British government must first come clean on collusion, something that has now been made harder by the key role given to MI5 in Northern Ireland and by the gutting of the Public Inquiry legislation."

Dolores Kelly, SDLP member of the Policing Board, the influence of Fr Sean McManus in Irish-America "could not be underestimated".

"They are certainly very welcome and positive comments coming from someone who has been very critical and sceptical in the past and I certainly would endorse his comments," she said.

September 12, 2006

This article appeared first in the September 11, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

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