(by Niall O'Dowd, Ireland on Sunday)
"If you took the name "Northern Ireland Police Force" off this document it would be a blueprint for policing in a democratic but divided society anywhere on earth."
Thus did Gerry Lynch, the head of John Jay Criminal College in New York and a member of the Patten Commission characterise the Patten report, which has caused such an uproar in the unionist community.
Lynch is one of the leading criminologists in the US and nobodyís patsy when it comes to policing matters. He established a scholarship at his college in honour of the slain Garda Jerry McCabe and has always come across as a defender of policing interests as against having any political agenda. Thus when he speaks out on the report his opinion should be closely listened to. Knowing Gerry Lynch as I do, I know he did not set out with a political agenda, but a policing one. He and the others appear to have done remarkable job of separating the two issues.
I guarantee this report will be used as a model across the world wherever the efforts to police divided societies are examined. Like the Good Friday Agreement, it will become an historic document for the way it weighed change in a polarised society and sought to find that median line that allows both communities to take comfort from its recommendations.
It was no easy task, but the fact that the 175 findings were unanimous points up the extraordinary job Patten did as chairman. Those who had predicted chaos and minority reports were proven badly wrong.
Nationalists should grasp this report as a first step in a long overdue reform of a fundamental arm of the repressive Northern state. True, it is not the disbandment of the RUC, but it is the beginning of the first ever dialogue about the type of policing that Northern Ireland should have. For the first time the rights of the minority and the need for a fundamental dynamic of change have been recognized.
I donít know of any IRA campaign that could have created such a document. The Patten report is a creature of a peace process that has created more change in itsí short life than all the armed campaigns since the foundation of the Northern State helped create.
The Patten commission panel have cast a cold eye on the RUC and have found the force wanting in several vital aspects. Their job was a near impossible one, yet they have performed it with credit. They have essentially tried to depoliticise the police and make them relevant to both communities in Northern Ireland. In the process, of course, they have stirred up a hornetís nest of opposition among unionists who seem incapable of understanding that unlike Louis XIV who could proclaim with conviction "The State is Me" they are no longer the state, and they no longer decide the institutions of that state. Equally, on the other side, hardline Republican elements are also unsatisfied.
Here in New York the Irish Freedom Committee, a branch of the 32 County Committee in Ireland, issued their own statement. "That there be no British police force on Irish soil is and shall ever remain the goal of the Irish Freedom Committee" it reads in part. It seems even the rights of Irish Protestants to consider themselves British in Northern Ireland is to be taken away by the Committee whose military wing, the Real IRA, brought us Omagh Patten recognises reality, not cathcries. The RUC is a police force 92 per cent Protestant in a state that will soon have a near even demographic split among Catholics and Protestants. Reform of policing is necessary whether or not there was ever a Good Friday Agreement . Any attempts to link the Mitchell review to Patten betrays a failure to comprehend the need for basic fairness in a society such as the fact that policing must reflect the make up of that society.
Sounds simple, but the failure to grasp that has made it a bad week for unionism. David Trimbleís intemperate attack on Patten was unfortunate. Taken in tandem with John Taylorís hissy fit on Friday when he flounced away from the Mitchell review sent the unmistakable signal that Unionism has no agenda other than a resounding " no" to any mention or intent of change.
With unionism in such disarray it behooves the two governments to look very carefully at their next step. They now have two documents of impressive authorship and historic importance. Those documents the Good Friday Agreement and the Patten Report must form the basis of the future governance of Northern Ireland. To allow either to be undermined or left unfilled would be a crime, not just against this generation but against future generations in Northern Ireland. Like the Good Friday Agreement, Patten has lit a beacon to show the way forward.