SUNDAY, 26 NOVEMBER, 2000, 3.30PM

Last Sunday the Catholic Church celebrated the Jubilee for the Police and Armed Services. It was a recognition of the truth that these services are called to play an important role in society. As guardians of the peace and upholders of justice they are called to defend the poor and weak, protect the innocent and promote peaceful coexistence and harmony. They are to uphold the rights of all citizens and in so doing they are often called upon to confront violence and to oppose on behalf of the rest of society the destructive power of evil, so often present and active in the world. This is not an easy task. It requires great courage, self-discipline and integrity.

And yet it is a vital task because the fair and impartial administration of justice defends people against injustice, vandalism and crime. It lays the basis for lasting peace. The Police and Armed Services need the help of the community to enable them to do their job of protecting the community against the threat of criminals. In this context the decision of the Army Board regarding two Scots Guardsmen is a cause of great concern and disappointment.

Peace is a fundamental right of every human being. It is a right that must be continually protected and promoted. Because an effective and acceptable police service can play such an important role in the building and preservation of peace, a police service, representative of and accepted by the whole community in Northern Ireland, is a major element in the peace process.

The Patten Report made an important contribution to the peace process. The Police Bill is another step hopefully on the way to an acceptable situation. While there are a number of problems still unresolved, the progress already made must be recognised and acknowledged. That progress was made through negotiation and discussion. Those discussions must continue because important elements of the Patten Report have yet to be implemented. They are of such fundamental importance to the provision of the sort of police service that is going to work and so essential to the future well-being of the whole community that they must be addressed. The legislators need the support of all as they struggle to achieve the provision of a new police service that will be acceptable to all.

There are other important elements in the peace process that need to be implemented. More needs to be done about the decommissioning of illegally-held arms. That issue is also of fundamental importance in the process of generating confidence and building trust. It is also part of the new beginning.

All who seek peace must be resolute in their conviction that violence is unacceptable as a means of resolving conflict. Bombings, shootings, punishment beatings, expulsions, acts of violence and intimidation, must be seen and condemned for what they are – criminal injustices towards the victims and a serious threat to the security and stability of society. The fact that they continue underlines the fragile nature of the agreement that has been reached and the constant need for that agreement to be upheld and consolidated.