27/03/2002

Row erupts over Garda Commissioner's visit to passing out parade

The departure of Sir Ronnie Flanagan as head of the PSNI seems destined to be marred by political controversy, and this time the presence of the Gardai Commissioner at a PSNI passing out parade has caused offence.

Ulster Unionist Policing Board member Fred Cobain reacted angrily to the news that Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne will be officially involved in the ceremony and he has vowed to boycott the event altogether if the commissioner has any official role in the event.

It is expected that the Commissioner Pat Byrne and outgoing chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan will inspect the 40 graduating recruits during the passing out parade on April 5.

The row comes in the wake of what has been a tough time for the service which, among other things, has had to deal with continuing flak over the Castlereagh break-in and renewed collusion allegations over the Pat Finucane killing.

In addition to this, the Police Federation chairman Jimmy Spratt has unexpectedly taken early retirement – four years before the completion of his contract. Among his reasons for leaving, he cited the "betrayal" of the RUC by the British government.

Mr Spratt said: "Overall, I think Patten has been grossly mis-managed and that's down to government because I think the government made promises to individual political parties, not thinking through the consequences of how the Patten process should have been handled."

Mr Spratt said that "morale is non-existant" in the police service and he pointed to the SDLP in particular for being most responsible for allowing the policing issue to be dictated by a "political agenda".

Elsewhere, the PSNI unveiled its new uniform in Belfast. The uniform, which is to be worn by all police service members, is to be introduced from Friday week.

Policing Board member Joe Byrne of the SDLP welcomed the new police emblem and said: "The new police badge was a breakthrough both in terms of how people of Northern Ireland define themselves, and define policing in the future. The symbols included in the badge define policing in terms of justice, human rights, the rule of law and parity of esteem for both traditions."

A spokesperson for the police service said health, safety and comfort were the main priorities for the design and that it would give increased protection to officers.

(GMcG)

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