SF storms PSNI rights report launch in protest

08 March 2005
By Ian Graham

SINN FÉIN gate-crashed the launch of a human rights report and protested, during a brief stunt about alleged security force collusion.
Around half a dozen protesters entered the conference room in the Stormont Hotel in Belfast and unfurled a large Sinn Féin banner bearing the message “Who sanctioned British death squads? Time for the truth.”

They stood quietly at the rear of the hall but the official proceedings were brought briefly to a standstill when group leader Robert McClenaghan strode to the front of the hall and began addressing delegates.

He said: “If we are serious about promoting human rights in the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) one of the key issues that has to be addressed is the issue of collusion.”

No effort was made to remove the protesters but a number of people attending the launch walked out in disgust.

Within minutes the protesters were gone and when PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde stood to formally receive the report he dismissed the intrusion as an interesting part of the “rich tapestry” of policing in the North.

He insisted: “We are very proud of our human rights and just for the record the PSNI has always been against death squads and those include, for example, the people who murdered Mr McCartney.”

Robert McCartney was stabbed to death, allegedly by members of the IRA, in a Belfast bar in January.

With Sinn Féin under intense pressure and facing a growing crisis over the incident, the IRA has expelled three members and Sinn Féin has suspended seven members for their alleged involvement in the murder and its cover-up.

Mr Orde told the gathering: “The very reason we are here today is to reassure and convince the community that this report underlines the utter commitment to deal fairly and properly with all the communities that we are privileged to serve.”

He said human rights was not “window dressing” and those who had produced the report had been given unprecedented access to the service and its operation.

He said they were not complacent and acknowledged there was still a lot to learn.

The report said the PSNI had out-performed their counterparts in Great Britain in their efforts to comply with human rights demands.

Nevertheless, legal advisers for the authority that holds the force to account stresses the need to maintain an ongoing awareness of human rights issues.

In its first assessment of the force’s performance, the Northern Ireland Policing Board examined 12 key areas.

Lawyers Keir Starmer QC and Jane Gordon praised the PSNI for its attempts to meet challenges laid down by law.

Their report said: “In our view, the PSNI has done more than any police service in the UK to achieve human rights compliance, and in many respects we have been very impressed with the work the PSNI has undertaken in the human rights field.

“The fact that a range of recommendations have been made does not mean we have found widespread lack of compliance with the Human Rights Act.”

The board’s representatives completed a study on how the service was coping with integrating the 1998 Human Rights Act.

Police compliance has been strengthened by an internal Code of Ethics introduced as part of attempts to reform the force, they found.

A framework for checking police performance was developed and published by Mr Starmer and Ms Gordon in December 2003.

Those guidelines, and the recommendations emerging from the new report, focused on areas including the police programme of action and effectiveness of human rights training.

They were given unrestricted access to officers and police documentation, and attended events and incidents as they happened.

Meetings were also held with all relevant statutory bodies and a range of interested groups.

As well as officers’ adherence to the Code of Ethics, other issues included public order situations; use of force; covert policing; victims’ rights; the treatment of suspects; and human rights awareness among officers.

In future reports the advisers will be focusing on privacy, data protection and the impact of human rights on the role of local District Policing Partnerships.

“Whilst a high number of officers across all ranks and with varying lengths of service demonstrate a good base-level knowledge of human rights, the PSNI must ensure that officers maintain, develop and apply that knowledge in their work.

“It is therefore essential that human rights principles are fully integrated into all aspects of PSNI training and areas of concern identified in relation to training and other areas of this report are given urgent attention.”

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