Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland

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The Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland was established in 1998, as part of the Belfast Agreement. Chaired by Chris Patten (Conservative politician, and last Governor of Hong Kong), it was better known as the Patten Commission.

Terms of Reference

Under the terms of reference defined in the Belfast Agreement, the Commission was to inquire into policing in Northern Ireland, consult widely, and make proposals for future policing structures and arrangements, including the Police's composition, recruitment, training, culture, ethos and symbols.

The aim of the proposals was to be a police service which would be effective, operate in partnership with the community, cooperate with the Garda Síochána and other police forces, and be accountable both to the law and the community which it was to serve.

The Report

On 9th September 1999 the Commission produced its report, entitled A New Beginning: Policing in Northern Ireland but popularly known as the Patten Report, which contained 175 symbolic and practical recommendations. Key recommendations included:

  • the replacement of the Royal Ulster Constabulary by the Police Service of Northern Ireland
  • a new Policing Board and District Policing Partnership Boards to ensure accountability
  • the creation of a Police Ombudsman and a Complaints Tribunal
  • the removal of most visible symbols of Britishness from the police service
  • a 50-50 recruitment policy for Catholics and Protestants.
  • a new code of ethics and oath of office, including a strong emphasis on human rights
  • an emphasis on community policing and normalisation
  • proposals for training, community liaison, cooperation with other police services, and recruitment from outside Northern Ireland
  • repeal by the Gaelic Athletic Association of its rule 21, which prohibited members of the police or army in Northern Ireland from being members of the Association


The report led to the publication of the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill in May 2000, and its subsequent implementation. Sinn Féin, which represents a quarter of Northern Ireland's voters, has refused to endorse the new force until the Patten recommendations have been implemented in full. The GAA repealed Rule 21, despite the misgivings of most Six Counties members.

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