Royal Ulster Constabulary

From Academic Kids

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was the police force in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 2001. Founded on June 1, 1922 out of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) the force was responsible for law enforcement and anti-terrorism in Northern Ireland. At its peak the force had around 8500 officers with a further 4500 reservists, the controversial Ulster Special Constabulary.

The RUC was controversial throughout its existence. To unionists, the majority community, the police were seen as the defenders of the Northern Irish state, which had an entirely unionist-dominated majority in government. To Irish nationalists, the RUC was seen as the law and order arm of a Northern Irish state to which they refused to give their allegiance. The RUC faced allegations of improper behaviour from many nationalists and republicans, who accused it of police brutality and political bias. Some unionists accused it of not being tough enough on terrorists. Throughout its existence, republican political leaders urged members of the nationalist community not to join the RUC. Republicans often intimidated Catholic officers. The force was overwhelmingly Protestant and unionist in membership. Social Democratic and Labour Party MP and critic of the force Seamus Mallon, who later served as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, claimed the RUC was "97% Protestant and 100% unionist."

Almost 300 officers died and over 7300 were injured during the Troubles (mid-1960s to late 1990s), most often in attacks by the Provisional IRA. The force was awarded the George Cross by Queen Elizabeth II on the advice of British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the run up to its replacement by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in 2001.



The RUC officially came into existence on June 1, 1922. The force's new headquarters were established at the Atlantic Buildings in Belfast, and Charles Wickham was the first Inspector-General. The force was largely identical to the RIC - with the twin duties of law enforcement and maintenance of the political status quo. Like the RIC, and in contrast to Great Britain and the rest of Ireland, all members of the new force were armed.

The new RUC was immediately involved in dealing with the sectarian rioting and assassinations in Belfast and Londonderry. A District Inspector Nixon, formerly of the RIC, is infamous in Belfast Catholic folk memory for having allegedly organised and taken part in sectarian murders of Catholics (especially those of the entire McMahon family) in the city during Northern Ireland's turbulent birth. He later became a unionist MP. However, as the 1920s progressed violence soon fell sharply away and was only briefly revived by the economic downturn of the 1930s, although the Irish Republican Army kept its hand in with sporadic bombing campaigns in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. During World War II, the main concern of the RUC was smuggling from across the border and the enforcement of wartime regulations. In April 1943 women were allowed to join the force for the first time.

Policing in a divided society

Policing a divided society such as in Northern Ireland proved difficult, as each community (nationalist and unionist) had different attitudes towards the institutions of the state. To Northern unionists, the state had full legitimacy, as did its institutions, its parliament, the Crown and its police force. Many northern nationalists, however, viewed the Northern Irish state as sectarian, anti-Catholic, anti-nationalist, and as a gerrymander on a huge scale that had partitioned Ireland against the will of its people to create a pro-union electoral majority in the northeast. As policing is by definition the upholding of the law and order of the existing institutional structures, it is not surprising then that the RUC became closely identified with the state, through its largely Protestant and unionist membership, its use of the word 'Royal' in the title and its use of flags and emblems of the northern state and the United Kingdom of which Northern Ireland was a part. Nevertheless, the RUC did initially attract some Roman Catholic members. These men were for the most part former members of the RIC, who came north from the southern and western counties after the partition of the island. The bitterness of the fighting in the Anglo-Irish War precluded them from remaining in territory now controlled by their former enemies. The percentage of Catholics in the RUC dropped as these men retired over time. However, IRA attacks on Catholics who joined the RUC, and the perception that the police force was "a Protestant force for a Protestant people" meant that Catholic participation in the Royal Ulster Constabulary always remained disproproportionally small in terms of the Catholic percentage of the overall Northern Irish population. In December 1997, the London Independent newspaper published a leaked internal RUC document which reported that a third of all Catholic RUC officers had suffered discrimination and/or harassment from Protestant fellow officers.

Post-war brought about the gradual improvement in the lot of the constables, interrupted only by terrorist activities. The IRA's 'border campaign' of 1957-62 killed seven RUC officers. The force was streamlined in the 1960s, a new headquarters was opened at Knock in Belfast and a number of rural barracks were closed. In 1967 the forty-two hour working week was introduced.

The Troubles

The rise of civil rights protests at the end of the decade marked the beginning of The Troubles. The RUC continued its traditional pro-unionist role when it found itself confronting marchers protesting at the gerrymandering of local governmental electoral wards and the discrimination in local housing allocation. Many of these protests were banned by the government of Northern Ireland, but often the marches went ahead anyways. The events at Duke Street in Derry and Burntollet Bridge, in east County Derry, were particularly notable for the brutality used. The existence of its own anti-terrorist militia, the B Specials, proved highly controversial, with the latter unit seen by some nationalists as much more anti-Catholic and anti-nationalist than the RUC, which unlike the B Specials attracted some Catholic recruits. The severe pressure on the RUC and B-Specials led in August 1969 to the British Army being called in to support the civil administration. Initially the army was welcomed by Catholic nationalists in preference to the RUC and in particular the B Specials. However heavy handed army behaviour, most notably on Bloody Sunday (when thirteen people were shot dead in the aftermath of a civil rights march), soon saw the minority Catholic population turn against the Army. The high level of civil disturbance led to a review of the RUC, headed by Lord Hunt. Most of the recommendations of the report were accepted - the force was reorganized to bringing it into line with other UK police forces with 12 Police Divisions and 39 Sub-Divisions, with British rank and promotion structure and the creation of a Police Authority. All military-style duties were handed over to the new Ulster Defence Regiment, which replaced the B Specials, and which in turn would be replaced, amid allegations that it too was sectarian, by the Royal Irish Regiment.

In August 1969, the RUC killed the first child victim of the Troubles. Nine-year old Patrick Rooney was shot as he lay in bed by policemen firing from a moving truck.

The first RUC casualty of the new disorder was Constable Victor Arbuckle, who was killed in October 1969 by loyalist paramilitaries and the first definite victims of a campaign by the new Provisional IRA (a breakaway from the Official IRA) were in August 1970. From then until 1994 a further 193 RUC and 101 RUC Reserve members were killed and over 7000 injured.

In June 1978, three RUC officers were charged with kidnapping a Catholic priest in retaliation for the kidnapping of another RUC man by the IRA.

In August 1979, the United States State Department halted a shipment of arms that the British government had purchased on behalf of the RUC. This was an indication of US disapproval of the RUC's role in the conflict, and was a source of friction between the US and British governments. The RUC eventually bought the arms it wanted from Germany.

Starting in late 1982, there were a large number of killings of unarmed IRA and INLA men by the RUC, usually at checkpoints. The constant and prolonged nature of these incidents led to accusations of a shoot-to-kill policy by the RUC. The British government set up the Stalker Inquiry to investigate. In September 1983, four officers were charged with murder as a result of the inquiry.

In May 1986 John Hermon, then Chief Constable, publicly accused Unionist politicians of "consorting with paramilitary elements." Anger at the Anglo-Irish Agreement led to unionists attacking over 500 homes, of Catholics and RUC officers. 150 RUC families were forced to move as a result of the intimidation.

In February 1994, Amnesty International published a report which stated there was "mounting evidence" of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries.

David Trimble, Nobel Peace Prize co-winner and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, admitted that Northern Ireland in the past had been a "cold house for Catholics". The Belfast Agreement produced a wholescale reorganisation of inter-community, governmental and policing systems, including a power-sharing executive with David Trimble and the nationalist SDLP's Seamus Mallon (later replaced by new party leader Mark Durkan) as co-chairmen. The perceived bias, and the clear lack of Catholics and nationalists, in the RUC meant that as part of the Good Friday Agreement (1998) there was a fundamental policing review. The review was headed by Chris Patten, a former Hong Kong Governor and British Conservative Minister under Margaret Thatcher, and published in September 1999. It recommended a wholesale reorganisation of policing, with the replacement of the Royal Ulster Constabulary with a new police force that would contain people from both communities and which would adopt neutral systems, flags and emblems. The new Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was introduced in November 2001. As part of the change, the new police service dropped the word 'Royal' and adopted a new badge that included both the crown and the harp, two symbols of the RUC each with an identification to one or other community.

George Cross

Two years before its replacement, the RUC was awarded the George Cross for bravery in dealing with terrorist threat, a rarely awarded honour which had only been awarded collectively once before, to the Island of Malta.

The Stephens Inquiry into alleged police collusion with loyalist killers

On 18 April 2003 the report on alleged RUC collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in the late 1980s was produced by Britain's top policeman, Sir John Stevens. It showed what Sir John called evidence of "serious shortcomings highlighting collusion". In particular police and army involvement in the murder of nationalist solicitor Pat Finucane, long alleged by nationalists, and Adam Lambert, a young Protestant mistaken for a Catholic, was confirmed. According to Sir John:

I . . . believe the RUC investigation of Pat Finucane's murder should have resulted in the early arrest and detection of his killers. I conclude there was collusion in both murders and in the events surrounding them. . . My inquiries have highlighted collusion, the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence and the extreme of agents of agents being involved in murder.
These serious acts and omissions have meant that people have been killed or seriously injured. Informants and agents were allowed to operate without effective control and to participate in terrorist crimes.
Nationalists were known to be targeted but they were not properly warned or protected. Important evidence was neither exploited nor preserved.

The SDLP leader Mark Durkan responded by saying he was "shocked but not surprised" by the report. He said:

Nationalists have an equal right to life. None of the security forces vindicated it. . . This represents a betrayal of the nationalist community.

The SDLP demanded to know how much of the collusion was known by former chief constables of the RUC, notably Sir Hugh Annesley and Sir Ronnie Flanagan, both of whose periods in office as chief constable or at a senior management level covered the timespan of the collusion. The SDLP also demanded to know if then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Tom King and then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were aware.

Stephens also alleged that elements in the army and police force had attempted to sabotage his work. Nationalists continue to demand a full public sworn inquiry into the events surrounding the Finucane murder, and in particular to examine what role if any elements of the RUC Special Branch and units of the British Army had in enabling loyalist paramilitaries to murder Catholics and nationalists. David Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, called for a parliamentary inquiry into the collusion, while nationalists demanded a full public inquiry. (It was notable, but not surprising, how in the aftermath of Stevens' report, everyone from the media to British politicians, the unionist UUP and the nationalist SLDP and Sinn Féin, all dropped the previous reference to alleged collusion and referred simply to collusion which in the aftermath of Stevens's shock report was accepted by all as a fact.)

It is notable that the new first Chief Constable of the PSNI, Hugh Orde, before his appointment, served at a senior level within the Stevens Inquiry team. He has insisted that the errors and the collusion within the RUC documented in the Stevens Report (the third issued by Sir John Stevens) will not be allowed to happen under the new police service.

Chief Officer

The chief officer of the Royal Irish Constabulary was its Inspector-General (the last of whom, Sir Thomas J. Smith served from 11 March 1920 until partition in 1922). Between 1922 and 1969 the position of Inspector-General of the RUC was held by five officers, the last being Sir Arthur Young, who transferred from London's Metropolitan Police. Under Young, who eschewed the RUC's military mindset in favour of a civilian approach similar to that held in the rest of the UK, the title was changed to Chief Constable. Young and six others held the job until the RUC was dissolved. The final incumbent, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, became the first Chief Constable of the new PSNI.

See also

Police Service of Northern Ireland, Royal Irish Constabulary, Dublin Metropolitan Police, An Garda Síochána, the Stevens Report, British Police, UK topics

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