The Patten Report on Policing: How Do You Respond?

8 November 1999

The Patten Commission: some love it, some hate it. What do YOU think? In this pamphlet we raise some -- but only some -- of the issues.

First, how have people reacted?

Some Unionist perceptions:

  • Changing the name is an insult to over 300 officers who lost their lives to terrorists and the hundreds seriously injured
  • Under the Agreement Republicans accepted that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK as long as the majority want it, so why won't they accept the flag of the UK?
  • Republicans could use Local Police Boards to give security jobs to terrorists.
  • The proposal to select an equal number of Protestants and Catholics from the pool of qualified candidates will discriminate against Protestants if there are more qualified Protestants than Catholics
  • On the positive side many Unionists were happy that the RUC was not abolished

    Some Nationalist/Republican perceptions:

  • It's still the RUC, even if they change the name.
  • RUC officers guilty of murder and collusion will still be policemen. They should disband it.
  • There has been no apology for past abuses
  • The police force will still be British
  • On the positive side many Nationalists believe that in a new political context the police may be properly accountable

    RUC perceptions

  • We paid a high price fighting terrorism and look at all the thanks we get.
  • Taking away our symbols is an insult to us
  • Republicans talk a lot about collusion among the security forces, but what about their collusion with Republicans in murdering police officers?


What does the Report Recommend?

The Patten Commission?s goal was neither to defend nor attack the RUC. Instead they asked: how can we get a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland based on cooperation between the police and the community, including both Unionists and Nationalists?

Human rights
There is a great stress on human rights in the document. The Commission want a new code of ethics for officers based on the European Convention on Human Rights and also much more emphasis on human rights in training.

The police need to be accountable: otherwise who will police them? On the other hand they need to be independent: otherwise politicians, for example, could pressurise them to cancel summonses. You can see the tension between these two values. To deal with this the Commission suggest new bodies at two different levels:

(i) The New Police Board for Northern Ireland
This should have 19 members: 3 each from the UUP and SDLP and 2 each from Sinn Fein and the DUP. The other 9 should be independents appointed by the Secretary of State and selected to represent a wide range of interests.
The Board would set priorities for the police, draw up a plan with the Chief Constable to achieve these and assess how well the police carried them out. The Board could ask the Chief Constable for a report on any action by the police and they could call for his or her resignation.

(ii) District Police Partnership Boards
These would be under District Councils. They would explain community needs to the police and vice versa. The majority of members would be elected but there would also be independents. Meetings would be public. With Council agreement they could raise rates to buy extra policing services, for example, video cameras in high-crime areas. The local police Commander should pay attention to the concerns of the District Boards.
It should be assumed that everything is made available to the public unless it is in the public interest -- not in the police interest – to hold it back (6.38).

Policing with the Community
Over and over the Commission stress that policing will only work with the consent of the community, and with proper respect for human rights. They see policing with the community as the core function of the police service.
Unless both the police and the community value and work at their relationship no structures, no matter how good, will lead to good policing.
Each neighbourhood should have its own police team with police serving there for 3-5 years. These teams should set their own priorities.
The Catholic Church should encourage people to join the police and the GAA should allow their members to join.

Public Order Policing
Plastic bullets should be retained, but used on the same basis as in the rest of the UK. There should be immediate research to find alternatives.
There should be trained marshals at all parades.

Recruitment should be by an independent agency. More Catholics, Nationalists, Republicans and women should be recruited because over 90% of the RUC are Protestant men. Catholic and Protestant recruits should be drawn equally from the pool of qualified candidates. Young people convicted of minor offences should not be excluded.
All officers should be obliged to declare their interests and the groups to which they belong.

The name should be changed to the `Northern Ireland Police Service'. There should be a new badge and symbols not associated with the British or Irish states. The Union flag should not be flown from police buildings. The Commission want people, regardless of their Constitutional position, to see the police service as their own.
Police memorials should be retained in buildings.

If you want a more detailed summary of the Report let us know.


  • What do you like or not like about the Patten Report?
  • What do people in other traditions like or not like?
  • Have you different proposals with which both Nationalists and Unionists could live?
  • Will the Patten Report help policing in working-class areas?
  • What personal sacrifices would you be willing to make for a police service which attracted widespread support?

Your response
The Patten Commission is not law. The Government have asked for public responses to it within three months. If you make no response you will have no grounds for complaining about the Government?s final decision. Community Dialogue invites you to meet in single identity or cross-community groups to debate the issues. Send us your answers and we will pass them on to the Government.

Community Dialogue is made up of community workers from across the divide. As a group we take no positions on political issues. Our aim is to build trust and understanding through dialogue, research, analysis and problem-solving at every level of society. Informed dialogue can and will lead to a settlement in Northern Ireland that is inclusive, negotiated and equitable.


Remember: it is up to us to make the future!