Comparisons have often been drawn between the ethno-sectarian conflict and resulting programmes of security sector reform in Northern Ireland and South Africa. While initially as Northern Ireland continued to negotiate a peace process it seemed that lessons could be learnt from the settlement in South Africa, however it is now the programme of security sector reform undertaken in Northern Ireland that is most often held up as the blueprint for successful reform for other post-conflict countries. This essay will compare and contrast security sector reform efforts in South Africa and Northern Ireland in terms of their success and failure and consider to what degree this is influenced by development.
The state of Northern Ireland was formed in 1921 when years of revolt against colonial British rule in Ireland culminated in the partition of the island. Ireland was divided into an independent southern part with a Catholic and Nationalist majority and a northern part with a Protestant and Unionist majority. Partition was violently contested from the outset by the Catholic minority and this division between Protestant and Catholic defined politics in the new state. From its formation, Northern Ireland had its own devolved Parliament at Stormont with the Ulster Unionist Party governing for 50 consecutive years, the result o f this system of one party government was that the Catholic minority had less access to government, employment and housing than the Protestant majority.1
In the 1960’s and 70s allegations of discrimination against Catholics resulted in a civil rights campaign as well as counter protests that descended into a sustained period of civil unrest. The Unionist government failed to implement effective reforms and the tactics employed by the Northern Irish police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), including internment and the implementation of emergency powers only served to inflame the situation. As a result British troops were deployed to Northern Ireland to assist with policing and security and the Parliament at Stormont was suspended in 1972 in favour of Direct Rule from Westminster. Devolved government did not return to Northern Ireland until 1998 when a 30 year period of violent socio-political conflict was brought to an end following peace negotiations and the signing of the Belfast Agreement. It became established in the course of negotiating the Belfast Agreement that for due to the lack of democratic policing norms in Northern Ireland, for Catholics police reform was an absolute condition in establishing a ceasefire and reaching a political settlement. 2
Following these multi-party negotiations a framework was set for an Independent Commission on Policing, the Patten Commission comprising of both local and international actors with a range of expertise. Its 1999 report, A New Beginning for Policing in Northern Ireland3 was a comprehensive document that outlined the diverse aspects of reform required, while especially noting the contentious nature of the history of policing in Northern Ireland, it made 175 recommendations for change based on the twin pillars of respect for human rights and the need for greater community involvement in policing. 4 A wide programme of reform followed including a programme of compulsory and voluntary redundancies to reduce the overall size of the police force from 13,000 to 7,500. Changes were made to its organizational structure and a new emphasis placed on human rights training, accountability and oversight.5 With the intent to make the police force more neutral and representative of the community it served, the Commission made recommendations for reforms relating to culture, ethos and symbols. In addition to implementing the name change police uniforms and symbols were changed to represent…