A Submission to the Independent Commission into Policing
PFC | 01 June 1999
The Pat Finucane Centre has a long standing interest in the issue of policing and has identified as one of its major projects consequent upon the peace process the development of a policing service which is acceptable to both political traditions and which accepts and affirms democratic accountability and a culture of human rights.
Table of Contents
- 1) Defining the Problem
- Recruitment of Catholics to the RUC
- 2) The Way Forward
The centre has organised a series of public meetings, workshops and conferences in the north-west on the issue of policing, submitted articles to newspapers and taken part in numerous discussions on TV and radio on this topic. In addition we have visited local community initiatives in Chicago and New York where we met with academics, human rights workers and the head of Community Affairs of the NYPD. We maintain regular contact with organisations in South Africa involved in the complex issues surrounding policing in that country and have organised a visit to the North of Ireland of a delegation from Kritische Polizei, (Critical Police), a pressure group within the German police.
Within the past month the centre has coordinated a number of workshops in Belfast and Derry aimed at encouraging those active in the community and voluntary sector to make submissions to the Independent Commission into Policing. (To be referred to below as the Commission)
Our submission focuses on two key areas. We begin by defining the problem from our perspective. Following on from that we offer suggestions on key issues which must be addressed if a policing service which is acceptable to both political traditions is to be achieved.Back to top
1) Defining the Problem
In public statements the Commission has invited submissions on the future of policing in this society. We intend discussing future policing arrangements in part 2 of this submission. It is our opinion however that it is vital to put the discussion in context.
A failure to understand the relationship between the nationalist community and the RUC represents a failure to understand the very real problems that we face as a society. We hope to dispel some of the popular myths surrounding the relationship of the RUC to the minority community.
We take issue with the claim that policing in this society is abnormal as a result of the conflict, that maintenance of the present ceasefires will allow a return to normal policing , that as a result recruitment of Roman Catholics will gradually increase and finally we would dispute the notion that increased recruitment of Roman Catholics would resolve the problem of policing.
In official discourse the unacceptability of the RUC to a large section of the nationalist community is explained by reference to the campaign of violence by the IRA and other groups. Had such a campaign not existed interaction between the RUC and the nationalist community would be 'normal' it is argued. Should the IRA ceasefire remain in place 'normal' policing could eventually be resumed. One consequence of this, it is further argued, would be greater Catholic recruitment to the RUC. In a submission to the recent Parliamentary Select Committee the RUC Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, identified fear of intimidation and violence as the "major inhibiting factor" against Catholic recruitment. The implication is that the problem is internal to the nationalist community.
The nationalist experience has been very different. The unacceptability of the RUC to that community predates the violent conflict of the past thirty years. The role of the RUC from the very foundation of the state of Northern Ireland has been to protect a system of government which was fundamentally undemocratic and corrupt. In essence one community policed and continues to police the other. The character and ethos of the RUC was and remains unionist. Its policing function was and remains paramilitary in practice. The RUC for instance was the only fully armed police force on these islands from its inception. The paramilitary nature of the force was evident even in the vocabulary used to describe bases, ie RUC barracks. (1) The fractured relationship between nationalists and the RUC is clearly not a consequence of the conflict, ie: the result of unfortunate but necessary anti-terrorist measures. Rather the mutual rejection stems from the role of the RUC as the armed militia of one community in defence of institutions the very existence of which are contested by the other. (2) We submit that the conflict here has actually been prolonged and human rights abuses are endemic because of the nature of policing. The reaction of the state, as represented by the RUC, to the Civil Rights Movement in the period 1968/69 was the most important factor in the alienation of the minority community at that time and the subsequent growth of the IRA. (3) The problem though was not one of training, inadequate management structures or 'bad' policing. The RUC handling of the situation in those crucial years was understandable in the context of an organisation representing the unionist community. Normal policing has never in effect existed.
This is in fact the "major inhibiting factor" against Catholic recruitment. The RUC has frequently pointed out that greater representation from the minority community is impossible due to intimidation of potential recruits by illegal organisations such as the Irish Republican Army. While this is undoubtedly true it fails as an explanation to account for the fact that Catholics have rejected the RUC since the foundation of the State. The RUC has blamed the nationalist community for the under representation of Catholics. By so doing the RUC avoids dealing with the real problems of legitimacy and allegiance in a contested state. The problem cannot be overemphasised; the role of the RUC is to defend the Union not serve the citizen.Back to top
Catholics in the Royal Ulster Constabulary
In early 1923 Catholics constituted 21% of the newly formed force. This was a peak that was never to be regained in terms of minority representation. By 1927 this had declined to 17%. A steady decline continued over the years. In 1966, two years before the outbreak of the troubles, Catholic membership had had dropped to just 10%.(4)
Catholic membership of the RUC stood at 7.7 % in 1992 according to Hansard, the official parliamentary record. This figure had dropped to 7.5% in 1996 according to a recent report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.
The RUC presented Human Rights Watch/Helsinki Watch with the following figures for 1996 -
88.67% of regular officers are Protestant, 8.16% are Catholic 88.12% of full-time reservists are Protestant, 6.49% are Catholic 93.62% of part-time reservists are Protestant, 5.02% are Catholic
These percentages have not varied by more than 1% in any category since 1991 (5)
1) Between 1966 and 1996 Catholic membership of the RUC had dropped from 10% to 7.5%. According to the Chief Constable this can largely be explained by the fear of violence and intimidation that Catholic recruits would experience from within that community. The implication is that during 27 years of violent conflict with almost 300 officers killed by armed republican groups only succeeded in reducing Catholic representation in the RUC by 2.5%. This is hardly a satisfactory explanation for the religious imbalance.
1) As early as 1936 a report from the National Council for Civil Liberties criticised the militarization of the RUC, their toleration of attacks by orange marchers on Catholic areas and the use and abuse of the Special Powers Act. (See Weitzer, p43)
2) The determination of the RUC to force an Orange parade down the Longstone Rd in 1954 while baton charging nationalists who attempted to hold a St Patricks Day parade in Derry was symtomatic of the fractured relationship.
3) See From Civil Rights to Armalites, O'Dochartaigh, Niall Cork University Press, 1994
3) Policing Under Fire: Ethnic Conflict and Police-Community Relations in Northern Ireland, Ronald Weitzer,1995, p39
(5)To Serve Without Favor: Policing, Human Rights and Accountability in Northern Ireland ,Human Rights Watch, 1997Back to top
Recruitment of Catholics to the RUC
Following the first IRA ceasefire in August 1994 much was made of the rise in Catholic applications to join the RUC. This was brought to the attention of the Parliamentary Select Committee by the Chief Constable who noted that applications had risen from around 12% to 22% in the 1994-96 period. Our Centre requested information on the actual number of Catholics recruited as opposed to the percentage of applicants. Figures supplied to us by RUC Headquarters showed that in 1996 a total of 36 Catholics were recruited to the RUC. 27 Catholics were recruited in 1995 and 13 in 1994. Over a three year period in other words only 76 Catholics were recruited into the force. There are however wide discrepancies in the various available statistics. The figures quoted above do not include the RUC Reserve though the statistics from the parliamentary reply below would appear to do so.Back to top
RUC Applicants/Acceptances *
- 2317 applicants (231 Catholic)
- 326 acceptances (26 Catholic)
- 733 applicants (65 Catholic)
- 86 acceptances (3 Catholic)
- 5999 applicants (954 Catholic)
- 187 acceptances (26 Catholic)
- 4458 applicants (906 Catholic)
- 223 acceptances (35 Catholic)
* These figures are from the on-line edition of the Hansard Index. The figures were provided by Baroness Denton , the parliamentary under-secretary of state for Northern Ireland, on Dec 12 1996.
The rejection rate for Protestant applicants is lower than for Catholics. The Police Review reported in 1989 that the RUC rejects 5 percent of Protestant applicants and 20 percent of Catholic applicants.Back to top
Acknowledgement of the Past
We have argued that the problems that exist predate the present violent conflict and the gulf that exists cannot be explained away as a consequence of that conflict. This is not to ignore the legacy of the past thirty years. Any honest examination of policing in this society must take account of the long term effects of violence both on the RUC and on those who have suffered at the hands of the RUC.
Recently there has been growing acceptance of the need to provide support for the victims of violence. No one section of the community has a monopoly on suffering. No organisation has a monopoly on human rights abuses. Almost 300 members of the RUC have been killed with the latest fatality, that of Constable O'Reilly, having occurred as we complete this submission. The Police Federation and other organisations have urged the Commission to be mindful of this. Thousands of members of the RUC have been injured and traumatised. This has obvious consequences in terms of creating a very real sense of a 'force under fire.' The recent report of Sir Kenneth Bloomfield on victims of the conflict, We Will Remember Them, made special mention of the sacrifice of members of the RUC. Sadly it must be noted that the same report reflected an official tendency to ignore victims of state violence.
There are an estimated 359 families bereaved as a result of disputed killings by members of the security forces. (1) Of these over 50 were killed by members of the RUC. (See Appendix A for a list of victims involving the RUC) These 359 families, in our opinion, are the forgotten victims of the conflict in that their loss is neither acknowledged nor valued at an official level. No members of the RUC and only four members of the British Army have ever been convicted of offences connected with the above mentioned deaths. The resultant perception among these families that justice has not been seen to be done is therefore borne out by the almost complete absence of prosecutions.(2) In a normal society the police have a duty to protect the citizen. In cases where loss of life resulted from the actions of the security forces the RUC have done everything in their power to hinder prosecutions. In those cases where fatalities resulted from the use of lethal force by the British Army (over 300 fatalities) the RUC failed completely in its duty to conduct proper investigations or indeed even to make contact with the families in the aftermath of incidents in many cases. In our experience contact was frequently limited to a telephone call months later to inform relatives that the personal belongings of the victim could now be picked up at the local barracks. This has served to deepen the sense of exclusion and marginalisation felt by this particular group of victims.
We would urge that the Commission request full access to the findings of the Stalker and Sampson Inquiries into allegations that a shoot-to-kill policy was operated by members of the RUC. The findings of these inquiries have never been made public.Back to top
Allegations of Collusion
In addition to those deaths directly attributable to the RUC there have been continuing and credible allegations that members of the security forces (incl. members of the RUC) have colluded with loyalist paramilitary organisations. Specifically the allegations include the illegal passing of personal security files to loyalist death squads; incitement to murder by investigating officers in interrogation centres; failure to protect individuals whose lives were at risk and the obstruction of murder inquiries. According to Amnesty International,
"Such collusion has existed at the level of the security forces and services, made possible by the apparent complacency, and complicity in this, of government officials. This element of apparent complicity has been seen, for example, in the failure of the authorities to take effective measures to stop collusion, to bring appropriate sanctions against people who colluded, or to deploy resources with equal vigour against both Republican and Loyalist armed groups that pursue campaigns of political murder."(3)
Some have argued that collusion has existed as part of a well coordinated campaign involving senior members of the RUC, representatives of the unionist community and loyalist paramilitaries. (4) In our opinion the following issues should be borne in mind when considering the probability of allegations of collusion, irregardless of the degree of coordination.
Members of the local security forces and loyalist paramilitary organisations are drawn largely from the same community. Both the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries have shared the same goals; to uphold the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and to fight republican paramilitaries, in particular the IRA. Unionist political representatives and members of the security forces have often voiced frustration that state forces had 'their hands tied behind their backs' in the fight against the IRA. The proposition that elements within the security forces have systematically colluded with loyalist paramilitaries is hardly outlandish. (5) The fact that senior officials both in government and in the RUC have sought to ridicule these allegations has done nothing to build confidence in the nationalist community. In particular we remain convinced that the security forces at a senior level were involved in planning and endorsing the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane. (6) As recently as September 1998 the US Congress heard an appeal from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence and Lawyers, Mr Data' Param Cumaraswamy, who has called for a full independent judicial inquiry into the killing. Speaking to congress members the distinguished senior legal figure also expressed concern at threats made by RUC officers to solicitors during interrogations of clients.(7)
We would therefore urge that the Commission request full access to the findings of the Stevens Inquiry into collusion and support the call for a full independent judicial inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.Back to top
A Culture of Immunity
The unwillingness of the Northern Ireland Office, RUC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Independent Commission on Police Complaints and the Police Authority to ensure that wrongdoing would not be tolerated has fostered a culture of impunity within the force. The RUC for instance admitted in a recent Channel 4 documentary that only two officers had been dismissed in the past 17 years as a result of the complaints procedure. (8) This has obvious and serious implications for the future.
The use of rubber and plastic bullets for example has resulted in horrific injuries leaving lasting scars. It is unknown how many people have been left partially or fully blinded as a result. Fourteen people have been killed by plastic bullets and three died as a result of the use of rubber bullets. These weapons must be banned as a matter of urgency. (See submission from the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets)
The treatment of detainees in interrogation centres has also left a legacy of trauma that has been ignored. According to a statement signed by 33 solicitors in January 1998, "hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money has been paid out in compensation claims to detainees who have been assaulted or falsely imprisoned at the (holding) centres. We are aware of no subsequent action, disciplinary or criminal, against the officers responsible. The denial of the right of detainees to have their solicitor present during interrogation creates the circumstances in which such abuse takes place." (9)
Similarily house searches by members of the security forces have frequently been experienced as deeply humiliating and dehumanising exercises. Occupants have reported widespread sectarian and sexist abuse. Searches and arrests involving special units, the Headquarters Mobile Support Units (HMSU) and Divisional Mobile Support Units (DMSU), have all too often been accompanied by allegations of brutality.(10) Frequently the searches have been illegal as evidenced in subsequent payments in compensations cases. Officers are acutely aware that an illegal search or assault may result in a payment for compensation but is unlikely to lead to any internal disciplinary measures being taken. (11)
For the majority of young working class males in nationalist areas their only contact with the unionist/Protestant community is with members of the RUC or the Royal Irish Regiment on patrol in those areas. Human interaction with the other community is therefore limited to a negative experience. From the perspective of an unemployed youth on the New Lodge Road in Belfast or Shantallow Estate in Derry contact with unionists/Protestants is restricted to highly emotive encounters with representatives of a State to which they owe no allegiance. To make matters worse that contact is frequently intrusive even provocative. In such male on male encounters, which are replicated on a daily basis throughout the North, power is clearly vested in the RUC officer. Young nationalists are keenly aware that the RUC have the legal power to demand personal details, deprive them of their liberty, even use violence against them. They are also keenly aware that such power is, in general, wielded by young men from the unionist/Protestant community. This constitutes a disaster for community relations on a daily basis.Back to top
Where the Past meets the Future
Human rights violations have been committed by all sides in the past thirty years. As we noted at the beginning, no one organisation has a monopoly on human rights violations. There is a crucial difference however when it comes to violations carried out on behalf of the state.
- The state has a duty to uphold the law and protect human rights.
- Human rights violations by the security forces have gone largely unpunished, are not acknowledged and led to a culture of immunity.
This has serious consequences for the future of policing in this society.
The lack of acknowledgement epitomised in the recent claim by the RUC Chief Constable that the RUC is 'one of the best if not the best police force in the world' highlights the difficulty facing the nationalist community. Ideally a situation must be achieved whereby everyone feels free to join or even contact the local police. That presumes an obvious level of mutual trust. A failure to deal with the past however poses a very real human dilemma. Routine interaction with the RUC implies contact with:
- Those officers who failed to intervene when Robert Hamill, a Catholic, was attacked by a loyalist mob in Portadown in April 1997. Robert died soon after from his injuries. Deliberately misleading statements were issued by Portadown RUC following the attack.
- Those who alleged that security files on Castlederg man Patrick Shanaghan had been passed on to loyalists. Following his subsequent murder in August 1991 RUC officers at the scene refused to allow a doctor and priest access to the dying man. At the inquest an RUC man gave evidence of being ordered to attend a shooting incident. According to this evidence the order was given a full twenty minutes before the shooting actually happened.
- The RUC constable who shot Kevin Mc Govern, a 19 year old student from Cookstown, in the back in October 1991. Following the killing the RUC 'ransacked' the flat belonging to the victims brother and told the family that the corpse could be 'picked up in the morgue'. The victim was totally innocent.
- Those who abused, harassed and assaulted residents of the Ballycolman Estate in Strabane during a community festival in the area on the night of July 12 1997. Local councillors and clergy protested at the incident. (See enclosed Channel 4 documentary)
- Those who sexually harassed and threatened Roisin Mc Aliskey during her interrogation in Castlereagh in November 1996. Roisin, who was three months pregnant at the time, was told by one female officer that she knew where to inflict a blow that would cause injury to the unborn child. An 11 page dossier on the interrogation was submitted to the Human Rights Committee of the European Parliament.
- The crew of the RUC landrover from which a plastic bullet was fired which killed Nora Mc Cabe in July 1981. The crew of the landrover lied at the inquest but video evidence contradicted their testimony. Chief Supt. James Crutchley was one of those in the vehicle who covered up the murder. He was later promoted to Deputy Chief Constable and appeared in the Queen's Honour list.
- On August 7 1994 Kathleen O'Hagan, a pregnant mother of five, was gunned down at the back door of her home in a rural area near Omagh. Despite repeated phone calls it took the RUC almost three hours to respond. Several hours later family members, not the security forces, located the burnt out remains of the car used in the attack just one mile from the house. It is widely believed the family were targeted following an unprecedented three day search of their home by the RUC/British Army a couple of years earlier. Local priests appealed to neighbours to go to the house during the search to show their solidarity with the family.
- Those RUC officers involved in the early morning assault on the residents of the Garvaghy Road in Portadown in 1997. International observers witnessed brutal assaults on residents, the illegal use of plastic bullets, refusal to allow access for medical services, and the widespread use of sectarian and sexist abuse. One RUC Inspector kicked a man in the face/neck while the man was being held by four of his officers. Residents were later refused permission to attend Sunday mass and an outdoor service was held.
The incidents referred to above, though only the tip of the iceberg in terms of state human rights violations, share a common denominator. No officer was dismissed or convicted in court in connection with any of these incidents. Those responsible remain on duty or may in some cases have retired. We have not chosen to present a comprehensive list, merely to highlight the difficulties which arise because of the culture of immunity which exists within the RUC. The past will dominate the future until it is addressed and acknowledged. Mutual trust can only be established with the creation of radically new policing arrangements. This is not to argue that members of the present RUC should or could be excluded from that process. Further information on any of the above incidents is available at our Centre.
1) Sutton, Malcom An index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland 1969-1993 p.204 We have added two to the authors final figure representing fatal incidents involving the security forces (in Derry and London) since completion of the book. The security forces will of course argue that the vast majority of these deaths involved the use of lethal force under legally permissible circumstances. This assertion however has rarely been tested in a court of law.
2) British Irish Rights Watch, Legal Protections and Remedies for the Victims of Abuse of Lethal Force arising out of the conflict in Northern Ireland.1996 p7 Twenty four members of the security forces have faced charges involving the use of lethal force since the conflict began. As noted above only four were actually convicted.
3) Amnesty International, Political Killings in Northern Ireland. AI February 1994, p6
4) Mc Philemy,Sean, The Committee-Political Assassination in Northern Ireland, 1998 The book, which alleges the existence of a top level Committee coordinating loyalist murders, is currently at the centre of legal proceedings concerning allegations of libel.
5) The view shared by some in the Unionist community that suspects should simply have been 'taken out' , murdered in other words, is exemplified in comments made recently by the spokesperson for a new organisation representing UDR and RUC victims in border areas. The spokesperson for FAIR, Families Acting for Innocent Victims, admitted to the media that, in his view, loyalist prisoners who had been convicted of murdering 'republicans' should be released. Such people would normally receive 'medals' from the government in his opinion.
6) See for instance the trial transcript and judgement in the case of Regina V ersus Brian Nelson. Nelson was a British Army agent working with the Ulster Defence Association, the organisation which carried out the murder. The trial documents are available at our office
7) United Nations Report (1998) by UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyer
8) A video copy of the Channel 4 documentary on the RUC has been enclosed with this submission.
9) See Appendix B for a copy of the full statement issued by the solicitors. There is a long history of assaults on those detained in the interrogation centres. See for instance the Finucane Centre biography on Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan who was Duty Inspector in charge of Castlereagh in 1978. (Appendix C)
10) The problems posed by RUC special units are illustrated in three recent cases.In 1993 members of a HMSU raided the Kelly family home in the Beechwood area of Derry. Children had gun barrels placed in their mouths. One member of the family was handcuffed next to a boiling radiator while another was taken to hospital after suffering an ashma attack. The family, deeply traumatised , won their court case for compensation. In the case of David Adams Versus the Chief Constable substantial compensation was paid out in a Belfast court which accepted that Mr Adams had been assaulted by members of the RUC HMSU following his arrest. The man spent three weeks in hospital being treated for a broken leg, two fractured ribs, a punctured lung and multiple cuts to his face, chest and body. The judge accepted that the broken leg resulted from repeated martial arts kicks aimed at the man while in Castlereagh interrogation centre. No officer was suspended. A third incident involving HMSUs backed up by DMSUs occurred at the Derryhirk Inn, near Lurgan, in March 1996. A number of men in paramilitary uniform opened fire on bar staff and later terrified customers who feared the attackers were loyalist gunmen. One customer had a gun held to his head and was arrested. It turned out that the incident was an undercover operation, involving 101 RUC officers, which had gone 'wrong'. A consultant psychiatrist later documented post traumatic stress disorder among over 50 per cent of customers and staff. Over 100 complaints were lodged. Controversy surrounded the alleged 'investigation' of the incident by the ICPC and legal progress in the case has been agonisingly (and suspiciously) slow.
11) Our Centre has documented two recent incidents in Derry city where young men have alleged serious assault during their arrest. Their solicitors do not regard the filing of a complaint with the Independent Commission on Police Complaints as a worthwhile exercise.Back to top
2) The Way Forward
The Pat Finucane Centre works on the premise that the creation of a policing service acceptable to both traditions is itself dependent on the creation of political institutions acceptable to all. The problem of policing cannot be resolved in isolation or in advance of a political settlement. The premature introduction of a police bill in Parliament by this Government was therefore totally inappropriate. In addition policing cannot be detached as an issue from the general administration of justice. There are serious concerns at the system of justice as presently constituted. A radical overhaul of the entire judicial and legal framework is needed.Back to top
Win/Lose or Win/Win
The debate on how to resolve the problems associated with policing understandably stirs up fears in the unionist community and within the RUC itself. In a recent statement for instance Les Rogers of the Police Federation referred to those who criticised the RUC as "drop-outs, young rebels, terrorists and criminals".
We believe that the debate is too narrowly focused on what appears to be a lose/win or zero sum option. Unionists fear the loss of their RUC while nationalists demand radical and far reaching changes in policing. On the surface one community appears to seek gains at the expense of the other. Seen from a unionist perspective the RUC:
- Has served as the primary line of defence against republican paramilitaries seeking to overthrow the state.
- Has lost almost 300 men and women, from the unionist community, in the process. Thousands more have been injured.
- Has suffered vilification and 'republican propaganda' since the foundation of the state.
- Has been forced to get involved in a dirty war against its own wishes.
- Is unrepresentative because of the fear of intimidation that recruits would face in the nationalist community.
- Is one of the key employers, in particular of males, in the unionist community.
- Has in fact served the entire community despite the obstacles put in its way.
Needless to say our definition of the problem is radically different. Nevertheless we are attempting to come to terms with the various differing realities that exist.
There are valuable lessons to be learnt from the South African experience on how the debate could be conducted. There the policing discussion was refocused on the issue of how to achieve personal safety for all of South Africa's citizens. The notion of personal safety is both apolitical and universal. It applies in a very real sense to older citizens fearful in their homes, women in public places at night or indeed living in fear of domestic violence, young people returning from clubs and pubs, owners of vehicles and property, children playing in the street. The desire to have personal safety applies to unionists/loyalists and nationalist/republicans and those who see themselves as belonging to neither community. As Apartheid crumbled in South Africa representatives of the black community faced the dilemma of creating a policing service in the context of a debate which appeared to be win/lose. It was presumed that the white community would lose out with a resultant gain for the black community. It was decided to negotiate new arrangements on the basis that the South African Police had represented both protection and threat depending on your perspective, an organisational Dr Jekell and Mr Hyde in other words.(1)
To refocus in this way presumes an acknowledgement that an organisation (ie the South African Police or the RUC) has different meanings for different communities. Drawing from this we have argued and accepted for our part that the RUC is seen as providing safety and security to the majority of people in the unionist community. One important caveat must be mentioned at this stage. Relations between the RUC and those living in working class loyalist areas could hardly be described as one of mutual respect. Serious tensions and hostility towards the RUC have been a fact of life in such areas at least since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and have been exasperated amid the controversy surrounding parades. (2)
Nevertheless it is broadly accurate to suggest that the RUC is largely drawn from the unionist community leading to a sense of 'ownership'. It is therefore important to accept that the same organisation which causes acute insecurity and threatens safety in one community provides precisely the opposite, safety and security, in the other. Nationalist experience of the RUC is literally a million miles from unionist experience of the same force. It therefore follows that calls for a new police service fall on deaf unionist ears since there are no common points of reference. Progress may be possible however should the debate refocus on that aspect of policing that does mirror unionist experience. How can that sense of safety and security experienced by the majority of unionists in relation to the RUC be extended to both communities? How can a policing service be created that protects the personal safety of all citizens? For reasons outlined in part 1of this submission the RUC is clearly not an option in terms of providing the service required from a nationalist perspective. A discussion is necessary which concentrates on the goal, a policing service acceptable to all. To attain that goal is clearly moving the debate onto the level of a win/win situation. The starting point for the discussion is a mutual acceptance that there are radically different experiences of policing in this society. Trying to convince unionists that the RUC have been guilty of serious human rights violations does not mirror their experience. Equally, trying to convince nationalists that the RUC is one of the best police forces in the world does not mirror nationalist experience. Both communities would gain from the establishment of an acceptable police service whose role it is to protect human rights, provide for personal safety and serve the citizen.
1) See various papers from the Community Peace Foundation in South Africa. The discussion in South Africa led to the renaming of an entire ministry ; now referred to the Ministry of Safety and Security.
2) In Derry for instance local unionist community representatives have accused the RUC of 'harassment' (Glenn Barr, Londonderry Sentinel, 23.11.95) and "provocative actions' (David Nicholl, Londonderry Sentinel, 17.8.95. The September 1998 issue of the CAJ newsletter, Just News, highlights recent complaints on the Manor Park estate in Lisburn. Recent statistics on RUC families who had to be rehoused as a result of intimidation demonstrate the gulf that has opened up. It should be noted however that loyalist hostility is fueled by the belief that 'their police' have somehow been diverted from their intended purpose because of the 'malign' influence of the Anglo-Irish Secretariat and international pressure. So long as the RUC concentrated its energies on the nationalist community unionist representatives generally had little complaint.
Above we have outlined proposals as to how the discussion on policing might be conducted by concentrating on the goal; achieving personal safety for all. In our opinion the Commission will be encouraged to recommend one of three broad options:
- Minimal reform of the present RUC with no acknowledgement of past abuses and token moves to increase recruitment of Roman Catholics.
- Wide ranging reforms concentrating on removing obstacles to recruitment of nationalists (as opposed to Catholics) while side stepping any real acknowledgement of the past.
- The creation of a new policing service which reflects the community in terms of gender, class and political loyalty. This presumes an acknowledgement of the past.
This law and order option sees the RUC are part of the solution and not part of the problem. Catholics would flock to join if only intimidation from within the nationalist community would end. It also implies recruitment to an essentially British and unionist structure thereby excluding nationalists. Inherent in the demand that reform should be minimal is the belief that the RUC may have 'overstepped the mark' on a few occasions but that this was justifiable in the context of combating 'terrorism'. The RUC has been literally a 'force under fire' and any meaningful changes would sully the memory of those officers who lost their lives.
In the unlikely event of minimalist reforms being recommended a situation would continue indefinitely marked by mutual distrust, hostility and sporadic yet potentially destabilising episodes of civil disturbance. Nothing would be resolved and progress at the level of high politics, at Stormont for instance, would be irrelevant on the ground.Back to top
Wide Ranging reforms
Those advocating wide ranging reform of policing accept that the problem is not under representation of Catholics but rather the inability of nationalists to owe allegiance to a structure which is British and unionist in ethos. A politically neutral policing environment must therefore be created and structural changes will be required in areas such as the operational independence of the Chief Constable and the complaints system. Strategies will have to be developed to recruit nationalists and women. While those who support wide ranging reform are well aware of the unacceptability of the RUC at present there is avoidance of meaningful acknowledgement of past abuses.
The problem with calls for reform of the RUC, no matter how wide ranging, is the implicit acceptance that this will take place within the present structure. Reforms will therefore have to be implemented by a senior management which does not even accept the premise that they are part of the problem. The regrettable failure at this level to acknowledge human rights violations and create a climate of zero tolerance for wrongdoing makes it impossible to believe that they could create a policing service acceptable to both communities. In the unlikely event that Catholic (as opposed to nationalist) recruitment should increase dramatically it should be remembered that such a gradualist or reformist approach would take literally generations to filter through to middle and senior management.(5) Nationalists deserve a policing service to which they can owe allegiance at the beginning of the millennium not towards the middle of the 21st century as would be the case given current recruitment trends. It would be unrealistic to expect that reform of the present structure would attract recruits from the nationalist community.Back to top
A new policing service
To suggest that a new policing service is required would appear to immediately confirm the worst fears of unionists and of those who presently earn a living and support their families as RUC officers. The call for 'disbandment' of the RUC is seen as a key part of republican strategy. In republican circles few have sought to actually analyse the problems involved in this demand or ally unionist fears. In our opinion the following points need to be made regarding any discussion of a new policing service.
- The creation of a new policing service will be an evolutionary process taking several years. To call for new policing arrangements is not to exclude the role that the RUC will have to play in that process. It would be unrealistic and absurd to suggest that a new police service would come into being overnight or that this transition would be totally devoid of any input or involvement from the RUC. Many RUC officers have been involved in human rights abuses. Many have not. There are aspects of policing in this society that would be largely uncontroversial and depoliticised if divorced from the present RUC. There are men and women in the RUC who do not report for duty each day with a view to harassing the nearest 'taig'. The training and experience which exists must be harnessed towards the goal of democratising policing and making it accountable and representative.
- The debate around 'downsizing' may offer a solution to the resistance that presently exists to change. Even the most ardent defender of the RUC recognises that present force levels are incompatible with peace time policing needs. It has been suggested that between 3000 and 5000 officers would be required if political stability is achieved. Should such a service reflect the religious and gender balance of the population it logically follows that upwards of 11,000 RUC officers would face redundancy. This is already a matter of understandable concern and requires immediate discussion in the public arena. We submit that it would be neither socially acceptable nor politically tenable to suggest that former RUC officers be simply shown the door. Above all such a move would be potentially destabilising to the entire peace process. An active 'exit strategy' must be developed taking into account the real fears of officers for their future. The strategy must be sensitive though it would be unrealistic to allow the RUC, Police Federation or others with a vested interest to actually determine the policies required. A diversion of the security budget and utilisation of international funds will be required to retrain and equip officers for alternative employment. A diversion of part of the security budget, which after all includes wages, could facilitate retraining programmes for former RUC officers. International funding should be sought to ensure that those who wished to leave are offered alternatives. It should again be stressed that this is an inevitable process in any case whatever view one might take on the record of the RUC. The task will be fraught with difficulties but the alternative, maintenance of a bloated and unacceptable security industry, is no alternative in reality. Again international experience should be harnessed.
- Recruitment should be halted immediately. It is unrealistic to argue that recruitment in the present circumstances would be of any benefit. As noted above the problem is not under representation of Catholics but rather the inability of nationalists to give allegiance to a structure which is essentially British and unionist. Even if the percentage of Catholics (as opposed to nationalists) were to double within several years nothing would substantially change. According to the former director of the European Network of Policewomen, Anita Hazenberg, any group of less than 15% in an organisation "will never be able to have a substantial influence on the culture established and in order to survive they have the accept the rules developed and executed by the majority."(1)
- A sensible area to begin the process would be a phasing out of the RUC Reserve. This body, both full-time and part-time, are perceived by nationalists (correctly in our opinion) as representing the most sectarian element within policing. Representation from the minority community is even lower in the RUC Reserve than in the RUC itself. (2) According to a recent internal survey of Religious and Political Harassment and Discrimination in the RUC the lowest response to the survey was "amongst Part-time Reservists (24%) followed by Full-Time Reservists (26%)."(3) Research would suggest that those who ignore such surveys are effectively denying the existence of the problem in the first place. The Reserve force, which provides the majority of recruits to the RUC at present, does have a larger percentage of women however. Lessons could be learnt on why women were attracted to the Reserve in the first place.
- A mechanism will have to be found to deal with the painful issue of how to acknowledge human rights abuses. This by definition will apply to all who have been involved in the conflict including members of the RUC. In our view it would not serve the purposes of reconciliation were such a process to include prosecutions. Not only would this prevent disclosure, it is also time to empty not fill the jails. It would be vital however that those officers responsible for human rights abuses should be encouraged to take advantage of the inevitable process of downsizing. The possibility of establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been under discussion in the public arena. This may provide the mechanism with which to deal with these difficult issues.
A New Phase of Recruitment
We have argued above that there should be an immediate halt to recruitment to the RUC and offered reasons as to why we believe this to be necessary. Discussion and consensus is needed on the levels required for peace time policing. Following on from this policies will need to be developed aimed at targeting nationalists and women. In our view this is likely to be successful if and only if it is apparent that root and branch changes are taking place.
The actual verb used to describe this transition, which will take time, is somewhat of a distraction. If for example there is agreement that 4500 officers are needed in a politically stable situation then the aim should be to follow a period of radical downsizing with active recruitment policies aimed at:
- Approximately 40% gender representation. This has been proposed by the Womens Coalition and is supported by evidence suggesting that women are better skilled at conflict and dispute resolution than men. These are precisely the skills needed to move from a policing culture which is male, macho and confrontational. (1)
- Approximately 45% political representation from the nationalist/republican community. For confidence to be established there must be a sense of co-ownership, a belief that power has been invested in a police service which is representative. That can only come about in a situation where almost half the population is reflected in all the institutions of state including policing.
What we are suggesting, a process of radical downsizing followed by active recruitment of those groups which are under represented at present, is difficult to quantify in terms of years. A period of three years may be acceptable and achievable. It is important to be clear that we are referring to the creation of new structures, practices and policies. Some of the issues which will have to be dealt with in the interim include:Back to top
Membership of the Orange Order
A significant minority of male RUC officers are also members of the Loyal Orders and in particular the Orange Order which is structurally linked to the Ulster Unionist Party. The Order is an oath bound society dedicated to maintenance of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and defence of that Union in the context of the Protestant Reformation. Members are sworn to "strenuously oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome." The linkage of politics and religion explicit in the demand that the United Kingdom remain a Protestant State is central to Orange ideology. Given the nature of the conflict here this has obvious implications for RUC officers who are members of the Loyal Orders. No one knows, not even the Orders, how widespread membership is among the RUC . It is possible however to get some idea of percentages from the Orange Roll of Honour published in the November 1996 issue of the Orange Standard and again updated in the February 1997 issue. The Roll lists the 159 members of the Orange Order who lost their lives as a result of the conflict. Thirty nine of the dead are listed as members of the RUC. This means that almost 13% of all RUC officers killed were also members of the Orange Order.
It seems reasonable to assume that actual membership is close to this percentage. These figures do not include those RUC men who are members of the Apprentice Boys of Derry or the Independent Orange Order. There is a civil libertarian view that members of a police service should have the same civil liberties to join lawful organisations as members of the public. A registry of officers who are members of such organisations has been proposed. This would serve no useful purpose whatsoever in our view. While we sympathise with the civil libertarian view we would argue that a new police service should not allow members of the Orange Order. Specifically we would argue that the importance within Orange ideology of loyalty to the British State being dependent on that state remaining Protestant is an extremist and sectarian belief inappropriate for a police officer in a new police service, in particular in the context of this conflict. We would however drop our objections to cross membership should the Orange Order redefine the issue of loyalty being contingent upon the State being inextricably linked to Protestantism. (4)
1) 'Policing in Utopia', from a presentation by the author organised by the Committee on the Administration of Justice, Belfast 25 June 1998, p. 7. This is also presuming that those Catholics in the RUC actually remain there. According to the RUC Survey (see footnote 3) 21% of Catholics who took part in the survey "considered leaving the RUC" as a result of harassment or discrimination. P.44.
2) See for example Policing in a Divided Society, Mapstone Richard, 1994 and the report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on policing, p,xii.
3) Survey of Religious and Political Harassment and Discrimination in the RUC, p,11. The survey is available on our website.
4) See chapter The law and the Order in For God and Ulster, An Alternative Guide to the Loyal Orders, Pat Finucane Centre, 1997 (enclosed with this submission)Back to top
A police service is as good as the legislation which empowers it. It is equally true that a police service is as bad as the legislation which empowers it. The RUC has had an impressive array of emergency legislation at its disposal since the foundation of the state. Indeed the state of Northern Ireland has had emergency legislation in force for every minute of every day of its existence. The Special Powers Act, later replaced with the Emergency Provisions Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act have empowered the RUC to act with virtual impunity. The measures recently rushed though parliament in response to the Omagh atrocity played into the hands of those who planted the bomb in our view since the real target was the Good Friday Agreement. Among other things the Agreement promised to abolish not strengthen emergency legislation.
If mutual trust is to be established it is vital that draconian powers are removed from the statute books. Confidence in a police service will grow when the public are assured that legislation is in place to safeguard human rights. The powers that emergency legislation invest in the RUC encourage rights violations. The issues of bail applications in politically motivated offences and access of solicitors to persons in custody are of particular concern. The open letter from solicitors (see Appendix B) states, "the European Court of Human Rights has already concluded that not allowing a detainee to have his/her lawyer present in conjunction with the changes in the right to silence, is a violation of the right to a fair trial."
In addition Public Interest Immunity Certificates have been used arbitrarily to withhold vital information which may have been damaging to the security forces. The inquest system is also designed to protect members of the security forces involved in controversial shootings. In the case of Sam Marshall, murdered by loyalists after reporting to the local RUC barracks in March 1990, an inquest has yet to be held, eight years on. Solicitors for the murdered man are demanding that documents which support allegations of security force collusion in the death be admitted as evidence. Following controversial killings it has taken as long as ten years before inquests have been held. Even then members of the security forces involved in the incident are not identified nor are they required to attend the hearing. It cannot be overemphasised: emergency legislation encourages human rights abuses and must be removed from the statute books.Back to top
Much of the debate on policing has focused on the ethos of the RUC which by definition reflects the official state ethos which is British and the dominant ethos within the organisation which is unionist and male. The constitutional changes which are required in the political arena would logically extend to policing. Forty five percent of the population are nationalist. It therefore follows that an acceptable police service would echo the diversity of the wider population. When the official state ethos changes the ethos of the institutions of state will logically follow. The issue of ethos would eventually become irrelevant in a situation where nationalists/republicans felt welcome to join a new police service. Symbolic changes such as the rewording of the oath taken by RUC officers have recently taken place. A politically neutral working environment is essential for any police service which hopes to attract recruits from all communities and backgrounds.
In addition a working environment must be created which is welcoming to recruits irregardless of their class, gender or sexual orientation. In recent years the RUC has slowly begun to deal with the sexism which is prevalent within any male dominated organisation. Contact has also been made with gay activists with a view to reducing homophobic prejudice. This is precisely the type of experience which must be built upon and improved in a new police service.Back to top
The Pat Finucane Centre welcomes the general thrust of the Hayes report which recommends the scrapping of the Independent Commission for Police Complaints. These changes are now being realised in legislation currently in parliament. We remain concerned however that there may be ambiguity as to who will be tasked by the Police Ombudsman to carry out investigations. It will be unacceptable if a situation evolves whereby the police continue to investigate the police. This is at present unclear. A further issue pertains to the staffing of the new investigative body due to come into existence next year. According to the Independent Commission for Police Complaints (ICPC) report for 1996, "the Members of the Commission and its staff…" will form the "..nucleus of the Police Ombudsman's workforce."(1) This must be a matter of concern. The ICPC is totally lacking in credibility within the nationalist community and among human rights groups.(2) If, as is expected, commission and staff members from the ICPC form the nucleus of the new body then the mistakes of the past may well be repeated in the future. At the very least members of any new staff should be required to participate in human rights training which could be provided by the Council of Europe Human Rights Directorate. We would argue for the adoption of international practice whereby human rights workers would be included in any new team of independent investigators into complaints.
The present system benefits the RUC and not the public. It is simply unacceptable that courts have awarded damages against the RUC for unlawful arrest, assault and ill treatment in custody yet no proper action is taken against individual officers.
The new investigative body should be empowered to look at complaint patterns in addition to dealing with individual complaints. This has certain benefits both in identifying possible sectarian or sexist behaviour in particular units and in making recommendations to management on how such patterns could be avoided in the future. The ICPC report referred to above notes that, "In 1996's summer of discontent the police were greatly tested. It is not for this commission to judge how they emerged from the scenes of violence which so blemished our province." (3) This highlights precisely the problem of limiting the remit to individual complaints. A transparent process would enhance credibility. Those making complaints should be kept regularly informed of the process and more importantly the outcome of their complaint.
1) Letter from Chairman Paul Donnelly in the 1996 annual report
2) An editorial from the Irish News welcomed the expected Hayes report and added, "many nationalists have no confidence in the present ICPC, and are reluctant to have any dealings with it." 23.1.1997
3) ICPC Annual Report for 1996, p.5 It should be pointed out to the chairman that the RUC is not responsible for the geograhical entity known as the 'province'.Back to top
There are fundamental problems associated with any organisation where the majority of members are male. The RUC of course faces the added difficulty that most officers are Protestant. It is unrealistic to believe that the macho and Unionist culture within the RUC can be altered through retraining. The problems that exist between nationalists and the RUC are not the result of stereotypes and false perceptions among officers that can be addressed in a cultural awareness workshop for new recruits or seasoned officers. The debacle over Drumcree for example was not the result of mutual misunderstandings. The problems are structural and require political answers which change those structures. An entire community has been excluded. This requires changes to the entire administration of justice including policing. For that reason we do not regard training or retraining within the present structures as relevant. We note the sharp criticisms of the programmes organised by the Mediation Network for members of the RUC contained in the report of the Parliamentary Select Committee.
Existing training programmes such as the Community Awareness Programme which seek to reform the RUC from within are based on the premise that nationalists and the RUC do not understand each other or that senior officers are unaware of the situation on the ground. Such courses, well intentioned as they are, completely miss the point. The problem arises where one community polices the other. Many people working in the community relations field informed the RUC of the damage done within the nationalist community following events at Drumcree in 1996. Media coverage of the clearance of residents of the Garvaghy Road had further alienated nationalists. In response the same operation in 1997 was carried out under the cover of darkness after the media had been diverted from the scene. This was the only lesson learnt.
In a police service truly representative of both communities there would then clearly be a need for a training programme which encourages respect for human rights and addresses issues of sectarianism and sexism. Indeed an organisation with the proper religious and gender balance might well find itself faced with greater problems initially precisely because of that balance. Over time however the most effective way to combat sexism and sectarianism would be to recruit those groups which are under represented.
A note of caution should be added. Training programmes are one of a number of building blocks but the foundation must be a sound legislative and judicial process which safeguards human rights and fosters respect for others. The New York Police Department for instance have a course titled Human Dignity and the Police. The course, based at John Jay University, encourages recruits to define human dignity and what it means within the realm of policing. Participants are then asked to consider occasions when they themselves were deprived of human dignity and what effect that had on them. Roleplays and workshops are used. The goal, fostering respect for others, is admirable. Such courses however depend for their success on the open and willing participation of those involved. It is relatively easy to pass through such courses and remain unaffected by the substance. Given the acute political antenna possessed by most people on this island most recruits or seasoned officers would be capable of delivering the appropriate soundbites. This is no substitute for the legislative and judicial foundations referred to above. In the wider political context of crime fighting under the catchy but misleading slogan of zero tolerance complaints of serious rights violations against the NYPD have continued.
A wealth of literature now exists internationally on human rights training for police services. There is much to learn from the transition in South Africa and from North American and European sources. (2) Most importantly training for a new policing service should be directed by civilians with the emphasis being on protection of the individual not protection of the state.
1) During a recent workshop it was suggested to us that middle aged women should be actively recruited since they "were the ones who kept the peace and resolved conflict in many areas of West Belfast for the past 30 years."
2) See for example Human Rights and Policing from the South African Police Service, Police and Human Rights 1997-2000 from the Council of Europe, various documents from Kritische Polizei , the organisation of Critical Police within the German Police and various documents from John Jay University, New York. All available at our centre.Back to top
There is widespread agreement that the present tripartite system involving the Secretary of State, the Chief Constable and the Police Authority is lacking in credibility. Public perception of the role of the latter body coincided with the day to day reality; the Police Authority rubber stamped decisions made by the Chief Constable. In addition each Secretary of State has been unduly influenced by the 'advice' of civil servants in the NIO (so-called 'securocrats') particularly regarding controversial public order situations. The phrase, 'on the advice of the Chief Constable' has taken on at times sinister and undemocratic connotations. Important and often disastrous policing decisions in otherwords have been based on the advice of backroom 'security experts'. Democratising accountability will imply returning control of policing to locally elected representatives at both regional and local level. This will not happen overnight. In a period of transition we believe that a number of issues could be addressed with urgency;
- the present system whereby the Chief Constable has (ill defined) operational independence is unacceptable. This contributed significantly to events on the Garvaghy Road in 1996/97 in our view. The fact that he could not be held to account for promises he had previously made to residents contributed to the violence that ensued.
- we would urge the involvement of the Irish Government or an international figure at a senior level until such times as appropriate structures can be put in place through the Assembly and local councils. Resolution of the important issues in the peace process to date, including this Commission, have been predicated on the belief that either the Irish Government or the international community must be involved in order to build confidence.
The phrase 'informal justice' conjures up images of baseball bat wielding men inflicting savage attacks in dark lanes. The imagery is all the more vivid the further away one lives from working class communities. It is nevertheless true that the vacuum in policing has been filled by a system of informal justice characterised at its worst by knee cappings and savage beatings. Our centre has organised a number of public forums on the issue. The degree of support that has existed for punishment beatings would surprise many outside of working class areas. Frequently such support is based on the fear that personal safety does not exist due to joyriding, assaults and availability of illegal drugs. There is agreement that the RUC neither intervene nor care.
Recently there has been much discussion regarding non-violent informal community alternatives. The potential advantages of restorative justice (1) and community mediation are being actively explored as realistic alternatives not only to punishment beatings but also as alternatives to the formal justice system. This is hardly surprising. International experience suggests that the police and courts are inappropriate mechanisms with which to deal with community conflicts in many situations. In our view any discussion of policing should bear this in mind. Many disputes at neighbourhood level are best addressed using the expertise and skills available in the community and voluntary sector. Difficult though it may be to admit at official level there is widespread acceptance in working class areas that certain issues are best dealt with locally. The inference is not that physical violence is then used or threatened merely that respected community leaders from the area already possess certain mediative skills. This deserves support both in terms of funding and skills training. In order that conflict resolution at the community level be successful it is vital to maintain a distance from the more formalised structure of policing within society.
1) See Designing a System of Restorative Justice in Northern Ireland- A Discussion Document, Auld, Jim et al, Belfast, December 1997. A number of initiatives are already up and running in nationalist and loyalist areas.Back to top