Submission by the PFC to the Parliamentary Select Committee on the issue of Policing.

01 November 1998

The Pat Finucane Centre was established in 1989 in Derry. It is named after the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane who was murdered by members of the UDA in February 1989. The centre is politically independent and has no links, formal or otherwise, with any political party or movement. It is a human rights and political development centre and provides resources and advice to a number of groups involved in human rights work and political action. Such groups include the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign, the Bogside Residents Group, Cearta and Relatives for Justice.


Though it is politically independent, the centre would be perceived as being nationalist in orientation and republican in character. Whilst counselling caution about the use of labels, we would broadly accept these perceptions as being accurate.

The 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. The centre has organised a series of public meetings, workshops and conferences in the North-West on the issue of policing, submitted articles to local 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.

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.

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The role of the RUC

The starting point on any discussion about policing must be the acknowledgement of the unacceptability of the RUC to the overwhelming majority of members of the nationalist community. In official discourse this unacceptability 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 this 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 present violent conflict. 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 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. 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 was one of the most important factors in the alienation of the minority community at that time and the subsequent growth of the IRA. 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. The controversy surrounding Orange parades on the Garvaghy Road in Portadown since 1995 is compelling evidence that the organic relationship between unionism and the RUC has changed little in the intervening years. Normal policing has never in effect existed.

This is 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 underrepresentation 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 state not serve the citizen.

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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%.

(figures taken from Policing Under Fire: Ethnic Conflict and Police-Community Relations in Northern Ireland, Ronald Weitzer,1995, p39)

Using information provided to the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR) Dr. Graham Ellison of the University of Ulster compiled the following table. These statistics do not include the RUC Reserve.

Professionalism in the RUC; Examination of the Institutional Discourse, Dr Graham Ellison
Rank Protestant Catholic Undetermined Female Overall Total
Senior Officers 8 (88.9%) 1 (11.1%) 0 0 9
Chief Superintendent 19 (86.4) 3 (13.6%) 0 0 22
Superintendent 107 (82.3%) 20 (15.4%) 2 (1.5%) 1 (0.8%) 130
Chief Inspector 140 (82.4%) 21 (12.3%) 2 (1.2%) 7 (4.1%) 170
Inspector 420 (83.0%) 48 (9.5%) 15 (2.9%) 23 (4.5%) 506
Sergeant 1272 (84.7%) 112 (7.5%) 28 (1.9%) 90 (5.9%) 1502
Constable 5518 (78.8%) 484 (6.9%) 221 (3.2%) 778 (11.1%) 7001
Total 7484 (80.1%) 689 (7.4%) 268 (2.9%) 899 (9.6%) 9340

Catholic membership of the RUC stood at 7.7 % in 1992 according to Hansard, the official parliamentary record. That has 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

(To Serve Without Favor: Policing, Human Rights and Accountability in Northern Ireland ,Human Rights Watch, 1997)

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 some 300 officers killed armed republican groups only succeeded in reducing Catholic recruitment to the RUC by 2.5%. This is hardly a satisfactory explanation for the religious imbalance.

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Recruitment of Catholics to the RUC

During the first IRA ceasefire much was made of the rise in Catholic applications to join the RUC. This was brought to the attention of the 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 parliamentary reply shown below would appear to do so.

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RUC Applicants / Acceptances*

  Applicants Acceptances
1992 2317 (231 Catholic) 326 (26 Catholic)
1993 733 (86 Catholic) 65 (3 Catholic)
1994 5999 (954 Catholic) 187 (26 Catholic)
1995 4458 (906 Catholic) 223 (35 Catholic)

* These figures are from the on-line edition of the Hansard Index. The figures were provided by Mrs Denton , the parliamentary under-secretary of state for Northern Ireland, on Dec. 12 1996.

The rejection rate for Protestant applicants is lower that for Catholics. The Police Review reported in 1989 that the RUC rejects 5 percent of Protestant applicants and 20 percent of Catholic applicants. The continuing imbalance in Catholics in the RUC should be seen against a second issue, membership of RUC officers in the Loyal Orders.

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The RUC and the Loyal Orders

A significant minority of male RUC officers are also members of the Loyal Orders and in particular the Orange Order. This is a semi-secret organisation 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. The Loyal Orders are religious/political organisations which stand in determined opposition to the civil and religious liberties of some 45% of the population in the North of Ireland. Given the nature of the conflict here this has obvious implications for RUC officers who are members of the Loyal Orders.

The admission by the Chief Constable of the RUC, Ronnie Flanagan, that he had resigned from the Masonic Order "so people would trust him to be impartial" (Irish News, 4.11.1996,p.1) raised the entire question of RUC membership of secretive organisations such as the Loyal Orders.

Shortly after the Chief Constable's admission the Pat Finucane Centre wrote to the Police Authority requesting statistics on cross-membership of members of the Authority itself and the RUC in the Loyal Orders. In reply we were informed that "members (of the Police Authority) are not required to declare their membership of the organisations you refer to..." (Police Authority, 15.1.1997). The second part of our query referred to the RUC but this was simply ignored by the Authority. The RUC does not require officers to declare membership of the Loyal Orders.

The former chairman of the Police Authority, David Cook, has urged a registry of names of RUC men involved in organisations such as the Orange Order. When this was suggested by him to the Authority it was rejected by a majority of members. However it remains unclear what purpose would be served through the existence of such a registry. It emerged in 1996 that two members of the Police Authority were members of the Loyal Orders after one of them was said to have been involved in Drumcree related loyalist protests. A former member of the Police Authority, Chris Ryder, writing of the stand-off at Drumcree in 1996 said, " ..the personal allegiance of policemen and women was brought close to breaking point. Some officers were indeed members of the Orange Order and others had close family or relatives as members.' During the stand-off there were people on both sides of that confrontation who were blood relatives' one senior officer said ." (Irish News, 23.6.1997, p.20). The point regarding "close family or relatives" is important. Given the number of members and the fact that both the Loyal Orders and the security forces are drawn from the same community it would be surprising if RUC officers did not count loyal brethren among their circle of friends and family. 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 in the past 28 years 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. These figures do not include those RUC men who are members of the Apprentice Boys of Derry. Such cross membership has obvious implications for those charged with upholding the law impartially.

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Policing : A Community Relations Disaster

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 allegience.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.

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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 is therefore totally inappropriate and prempts agreement on policing.

In addition policing cannot be detached as an issue from the general administration of justice. There are serious concerns, both in the nationalist and in the human rights community, at the system of justice as presently constituted. A radical overhaul of the entire judicial and legal framework is needed. Issues such as emergency legislation, the inquest system, the use of Public Interest Immunity Certificates,bail applications, access of arrested persons to solicitors and the removal of the right to silence must be addressed. The judiciary does not represent the generality of the population and is in fact dominated by a group of public school educated men. The judiciary have encouraged the growth of a culture of impunity in which members of the security forces could routinely break the law and violate human rights.

The widest possible debate will be necessary if democratic institutions are to be created. It is essential that such debate be fostered by a body which enjoys the confidence of a substantial number from both communities.

We would therefore propose the establishment of an :

International Commission on the Administration of Justice.

A five member commission should include nominees from the British and Irish Governments, the European Union and an internationally recognised human rights organisation such as Amnesty International. The key role of chairing such a body should be held by a figure of international standing in the area of law and/or conflict resolution.

There have been a number of important precedents recently for 'internationalising' the search for resolution of aspects of the conflict. The talks process is chaired by former US congressman George Mitchell while the decommissioning body is chaired by the Canadian General John de Chastelain. This international involvement is explicit recognition of the fact that certain key areas of conflict can only be resolved with outside intervention. Policing and the administration of justice is clearly such an issue. The commission, we would propose, could adopt the model of the Opsahl Commission and set aside a six month period when the widest possible consultations could be held. Accessibility to the commission would build credibility. This would therefore involve a proactive involvement with local communities.

The central remit of the commission should be policing and the administration of justice. This would allow for a more focused debate on the various proposals that have been put up for discussion such as two tiered policing. Such a body however could also deal with the vexed question of how to deal with past human rights violations by the state. Though all sides have violated human rights in the conflict the security forces have enjoyed de facto immunity from prosecution. We have no ready blueprint on how to deal with this emotive issue but submit that the families of victims of state violence should be consulted on their opinion.

A commission should also look at the question of how existing alternative justice structures could be democratised and made accountable. One avenue would be the encouragement of community mediation centres as an alternative to more formalised justice structures such as courts. It has been our view for some time that many disputes at neighbourhood level are best addressed using the expertise and skills available at grass roots. Difficult though it may be to admit at official level there is widespread acceptance in nationalist 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 should be encouraged and developed as is now common practice in other countries.

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 people going through a rebellious phase, criminals and terrorists." We believe that the debate is too narrowly focused on what appears to be a lose/win 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 expence of the other. 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. 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. (though there are notable exceptions in working class loyalist areas). Equally the same organisation, providers of safety and security in one community, causes acute insecurity and threatens safety in another. 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? To attain that goal is clearly moving the debate onto the level of a win/win situation. Both communities would gain from the establishment of an acceptable police service whose role it was to protect human rights, provide for personal safety and serve the citizen.

The implication of our submission is that mere tinkering with the RUC will fail to resolve the problem and will in fact sow the seeds of future conflict. Catholics have not joined the RUC because the RUC is organically linked to unionism and the unionist community. The real question is how to create a police service that is also open to nationalists and republicans.

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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. 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 does nothing to alter the fundamental chasm that exists between nationalists and the RUC. Put bluntly the oath taken by an officer is of no consequence to a resident of the Garvaghy Road who has just been brutally assaulted in by that officer in order to force through an Orange parade.

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The Pat Finucane Centre welcomes the general thrust of the Hayes report which recommends the scrapping of the Independent Commission for Police 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. 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 inclusion of a representative from the Belfast based Committee on the Administration of Justice for instance would increase the credibility of any new body. Civilian oversight of complaints is vital. A 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. 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.

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Training and Recruitment

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. We have mapped out our suggestions as to how this could happen through an International Commission. 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. 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 this 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 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. Existing training programmes 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 because 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. There is a culture of immunity within the RUC, a belief that wrongdoing in certain circumstances is tolerated. For senior management toleration of certain aspects of the dirty war was necessary in order to successfully combat the IRA. This culture of immunity can only be addressed through radical structural changes. Rigorous safeguards will need to be put in place which make it clear that there is zero tolerance for wrongdoing by police officers. Training programmes within the present structure cannot achieve that goal.

A final comment on the recruitment of Catholics. We have argued that nationalists will not join the RUC. This is understandable given the role of the RUC within the unionist community. 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. 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.

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Transitional Arrangements

There is no realistic expectation that a new acceptable police service will emerge in a matter of months. Our proposal for an International Commission presumes a consultative period of six months followed by a three month period when recommendations would be made. Attainment of the desired goal, an acceptable police service, would probably involve a two to three year transition period. In the interim we would urge that there would be no further recruits to the RUC. It is estimated that policing in a stable society with a population of some 1 1/2 million would require 3000 to 4000 officers. 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 to officers and requires urgent public discussion. We submit that it would be neither socially acceptable nor politically tenable to suggest that former RUC officers should simply be shown the door. Above all such a move would be potentially destabilising to the entire peace process. A diversion of part of the massive security budget, which after all includes wages, could facilitate retraining programmes for former RUC officers. 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.

A number of important policing issues remain in the transitional period with the potential to threaten the peace process.

  • The activities of specialised units such as the Headquarters Mobile Support Units and the Divisional Mobile Support Units (DMSUs) gives rise to concern. Recent unrest in loyalist areas of Belfast was attributed to the activities of DMSUs for instance. These units should be withdrawn immediately.
  • The continued use of plastic bullets with total disregard for guidelines is a threat to public order. These potentially lethal weapons should be banned as a matter of urgency.
  • The parades issue must be dealt with before the marching season begins in early 1998. A decision to force another Orange parade down the Garvaghy Road in Portadown against the wishes of local residents would have the most disastrous consequences.

We would urge the introduction of international monitors to join existing RUC patrols. Monitors, possibly drawn from Scandinavian police services, would have discretionary powers to join RUC mobile and foot patrols at a time and place of their choosing. This, in our view, would help defuse tensions in the interim and provide for impartial accounts of possible controversial incidents. Mechanisms could be established to allow for monitors to report back to a sub-group of the International Commission.


Footnote We are available to make a verbal submission to the Select Commission and clarify any points if required.

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