24. “Policing in Northern Ireland”
4th March, 1997
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Maggie Beirne (Committee on the Administration of Justice)
David S. Cook (Chairman, Police Authority for Northern Ireland, 1994-1996)
Chaired by John Clancy (Meath Peace Group)
Maggie Beirne: The Misrule of Law (CAJ Report, 1996)
David S. Cook: “Policing in a Divided Society”
Questions and comments
Biographical notes on speakers
Appendix A. Extracts from The Misrule of Law (CAJ, 1996)
Appendix B. Extracts from Reports of Police Authority for Northern Ireland – results of community consultations undertaken in 1995 and 1996
1. Maggie Beirne (Committee on the Administration of Justice):
Thanking the Meath Peace Group for the invitation, Maggie Beirne explained that the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) is an independent cross-community group dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights:
“The CAJ takes no position on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and is firmly opposed to the use of political violence. Essentially, we say that whoever is responsible for the territory has responsibility under international law …. We deal with the whole area of human rights activities … but also, because of the conflict, we deal particularly with issues such as emergency legislation, prisoners, policing etc.”
“Last summer , during April-May, we started to think about what was our role, as a human rights group, with what everyone realised was going to be a very difficult summer, given what happened at Drumcree the previous year. We saw two issues that were very crucial:
- The parading issue – “the need to develop some sort of framework within which there could be an adjudication between what we saw as a conflict of rights – these rights are protected under international law, but they are not absolute rights. They require accommodation and debate to ensure those rights are properly protected but are respected in a way that respects the rights of others. We made a submission to the North Review Body set up later in the year.
- The policing issue. “This was, in a sense, a more immediate issue. There would always be contentious parades in every society. It’s extremely important in that situation, that policing of those events is seen to be impartial and evenhanded. We recruited 60 observers to act as monitors of what was happening on the streets. We informed the marchers, the residents groups and the police that we would be there – we were there very publicly, monitoring the situation and reporting back ….”.
The Misrule of Law: “What came out of that was a very detailed report The Misrule of Law, which can be divided into three sections:
1) Policing and public order in general terms – “Why were certain decisions made? Our observers witnessed very serious rioting – we say consistently in the report that the police were in a very difficult situation. It’s even more important that the police act impartially. A lot of questions need to be answered. We focus on these in the report. For example, it was unclear why certain actions were taken. Maybe there were operational reasons, but it wasn’t always evident on the ground.”
2) Plastic bullets – “The CAJ is opposed to plastic bullets in all instances. They’re a lethal weapon – in many instances their use has exacerbated the tensions. The summer of 1996 raised particular concerns – over 6, 000 plastic bullets were fired in just over a week…. that represents an enormous use of force.
“Of further concern is the manner of their use. The unrest and public disorder last summer could be divided into two categories: unionist and nationalist. In the period up to the 11th July, which was a period of mostly unionist unrest, 660 plastic bullets were fired. During the period of nationalist unrest following the 11th, when the parade was allowed to go down the Garvaghy Road, over 5, 340 bullets were fired. We’re opposed to the shooting of plastic bullets at any protestors, but it is of even greater concern if plastic bullets were used in a sectarian or biased way. There were very serious disturbances both before and after the decision to allow the parade to go through. There was very serious rioting – as we witnessed in Derry on the 13th and 14th July – but the plastic bullets were not stopping the problem, instead they seemed to be exacerbating the situation.
“In the report, we ask questions and challenge the authorities. This was a very serious period in Northern Ireland – it’s been an extremely divisive period, and we’re left with a lot of long-term problems, as many of you are aware. At the very least there should be an assessment of what happened and why it happened and what can be done in the future.”
3) Specific incidents: “The third part of the report deals with a number of specific incidents, such as the Garvaghy Road and Ormeau Road situations, an incident in the casualty unit of Altnagevlin Hospital, and the death of Dermot McShane who was killed by an army saracen truck. Other issues raised concerned the police complaints system, and government responsibility ….”.
“The police were in a very difficult situation. We feel the Government abdicated to a large extent its political responsibility in allowing it to happen, then not intervening effectively, and then not setting up an international inquiry at the end of the process.
Following the issue of the report in November last year, the CAJ has had follow-up meetings with the Police, the N.I. Office, the Tanaiste, and anyone who can bring influence to bear.
In response to criticisms of what happened last summer, the Government set up two mechanisms
1) the North Review on Parades and Marches
2) the Government also said it would ask Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary to look into the whole question of policing and the use of plastic bullets.
“We welcomed the first initiative, but were critical of the second, as this would be a review carried out by a policeman, and would not seek public input. We came back strongly and saidit was a “totally unacceptable response”. As it turned out, the report is narrow in its focus, and in many senses doesn’t even take into account the complexities of the context within which the police are operating in N.I.. However, even with these limitations, the Inspector is critical about many things – the command structure, training, the use of plastic bullets etc. These are issues that must be pursued.
Human rights: “We in the CAJ believe that the issue of human rights is central to the conflict in Northern Ireland. It’s only by addressing these issues, that we can ever hope to resolve the problem. It is a very long-term process, but by doing this kind of work, publicising it, getting others to bring influence, we feel that change will come about in the long-term.”
Concluding, Maggie Beirne said:
“Looking ahead, everyone’s very nervous about next summer, particularly as the North Review has in a sense been put to one side and it is not really evident that it will have much effect on next summer. We are examining what we can actually do to contribute to bring about change. We are trying to encourage the European Parliament and others to think about sending observers. We will continue to put pressure on the police etc. to ensure that changes are made.Thank you.”
[Editor’s note: Extracts from the CAJ Report The Misrule of Law are included in Appendix A below.]
2. David S. Cook (Chairman, Police Authority for Northern Ireland, June 1994 – March 1996): “Policing in Northern Ireland – A Divided Society”
“Maggie has touched on a critically important episode in recent history – but it is more than an episode – it’s really a manifestation of the central problem in Northern Ireland. Maggie has quite correctly drawn our attention to anxiety about next summer, and you may well wish to come back to that at the end. The title of my talk is “Policing in a Divided Society”. I hope you’ll find my comments complimentary to what Maggie has been saying.”
Duty of RUC: “After the new Chief Constable of the RUC was appointed at the beginning of November 1996 some Unionist commentators, and their supporters on the right of British politics, objected vociferously to his comment that the RUC does not exist to support the Union or, in a similar phrase which surfaced at the same time, that it was not the job of the RUC to uphold the Union.
“These simple, and from a professional policing point of view, obviously correct assertions raised a storm of protest from those Unionist commentators whose mistakenly cosy assumptions about the correct duty of the RUC had been disturbed. In this paper I assert that it is not now and never has been the proper job of a police service in any society to defend the State as such; and further that in a society which is as deeply divided as Northern Ireland, it cannot possibly be correct for a police service to align itself exclusively with one side only of the argument and division in that society.
Single police service: “I am firmly of the opinion that Northern Ireland should have a single police service, operationally independent and free of any partisan or political influence or control but comprehensively accountable to the entire community it serves through the law and a broadly based, fully representative Police Authority, with its own independent committment to operating in public and openness, transparency and accountability.
“The members of the police service, who should be drawn from all sections of the community, and recruited on merit and suitability, should be well-equipped, comprehensively trained and also be aware of and sensitive to all strands of religious, cultural, social and political beliefs which span the diversity which characterises Northern Ireland’s deep and complex divisions.
“Upholding the Union” is part of the political rather than the legal lexicon.
“Upholding the Union” is what Unionists do (or should do, if like me, you do not think they are sometimes very successful in their attempts). “Upholding the Union” is what, sometimes, Unionist propagandists and hacks demand other people should do.
“This can be put another way. There is no law on the Statute Book called “upholding the Union” any more than there is any crime on the Statute Book called “not upholding the Union”. “Upholding the Union”, and for that matter, its opposite, are not laws or crimes. If they mean anything they indicate practical programmes, activities or policies and, in Northern Ireland, they could be said to be part of the political culture of each of the main groupings in society.
Flying the Union Jack on police stations: “Let me give you an illustration of my point. You may know that I have been criticised for suggesting that there is no good policing reason for flying the Union Jack on police stations on the 12th of July. That practice which I believe is bad policing practice and which I think must be changed is the sort of thing which some Unionists would include in a general description of “Upholding the Union”. It is a good example of why it is not the job of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to “Uphold the Union”.
“It should be said that if Unionists in fact had the best interests of the police at heart they should stop demanding that the police should defend the Union. They should set out to defend the Union themselves. Speaking as a civic unionist, rather than as a cultural or liberal unionist (and this is a distinction which has been proposed relatively recently), I am confident that there are a range of policies which Unionism could and should adopt which would be very beneficial as far as the Union is concerned. But one of those policies is that it is expressly not the job of the RUC to uphold or defend the Union; that it is their job to uphold the rule of law and to apply the law fairly and impartially; and that in this deeply divided society they should be culturally and politically evenhanded and neutral.
“If Unionist commentators are correct that the police service should be “Unionist” in the sense that they should “Uphold the Union”, then they can have no valid argument for not allowing that there should be another police force which should be “Nationalist”. And in those circumstances there is probably no end to the number of police forces which other political interests might legitimately demand. I think that that would be an absurd situation. There should be one police service only in Northern Ireland. But the proper consequence of that, in the words of Sir Robert Mark some twenty-five years ago, is that the police service must “act on behalf of the people as a whole”. In this paper I examine why we need an accommodation in regard to policing and the nature of what that accommodation ought to involve.
“But before doing so, I want to expressly dismiss the argument (advanced by the Daily Telegraph Leader of 4th November 1996) that because the Government of Ireland Act 1920, upon which the Union rests, is part of the law, and because it is part of the RUC’s duty to uphold the law, then the RUC cannot be neutral on the Union. This argument should be rejected on three grounds:
(1) Union based on UK laws: “The first is largely technical but it is nevertheless a point worth making. The Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and the subsequent Acts of Parliament on which the Union is based, are acts of the Westminster Parliament which are therefore UK laws. Those laws are not therefore part of the laws of Northern Ireland which, it may be said, it is the duty of the RUC to uphold. The Union needs to be upheld and defended in the United Kingdom Parliament. The fact that the Union is based on UK laws should be a salutary reminder to Unionists that it is in the UK as a whole that the Union needs to be upheld and defended.
(2) Criminal law: “The second group is more important. When people talk about the duty of the police being to uphold the law, the law they are talking about is the criminal law and laws relating to the safety of individuals and groups in society, such as the law relating to traffic, sexual offences, and racial intimidation, and the law relating to public order. In this sense the criminal law can be extended to include the law of evidence and the law relating to due process and criminal trials.
“But there are whole areas of the law such as company and commercial law, the law relating to the administration of estates and intestacy, or merchant shipping or conveyancing, and the list could go on and on, which people do not think of as areas of the law which the police have a duty to uphold. Constitutional law, whether relating to local government, or the Area Boards, or a Northern Ireland Assembly or the United Kingdom laws which relate to Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom, or the defence of the realm, is another such area.
(3) Deep division: “But whatever the merits or demerits of these points, the third ground is much more important. Only a fool could suggest that the Government of Ireland Act 1920 is other than the central focus of the argument and division both within Northern Ireland and elsewhere between Unionism and Nationalism.That deep division has not yet been resolved.
“I think that it will in fact be resolved in due course in the “talks” process which has now been going on for some five or six years but it has not been resolved yet. Only a fool would sweep those arguments and divisions under the carpet so as to burden the already over-burdened police with an alleged duty to uphold, in what could only be a spectacularly partisan way, the law which is at the very heart of what makes policing so difficult in Northern Ireland.
“To insist on the Daily Telegraph line is to condemn the RUC to being partisan in a divided society and thus inevitably, to ineffectiveness and failure to do its duty “to act on behalf of the people as a whole”.
Recent background to the policing debate: “When I was appointed by the Secretary of State to be Chairman of the Police Authority for N.I. in June 1994, I neither sought nor was given any indication, let alone instructions, about what policies, changes or reforms I was expected to propose or pursue. I did however assume, and no-one, in Government or elsewhere, has ever suggested to me that this was a wrong assumption, that I was expected to apply my experience of politics and public affairs in Northern Ireland over twenty-five years or so and to give careful thought as to how the Police Authority’s main statutory duty under section 1 of the Police Act (N.I.) 1970 – “to secure the maintenance of an adequate and efficient police force in Northern Ireland” – could and should best be carried out.
Reform: “In 1994 the pungent whiff of reform was very much in the air. The Sheehy Report on police pay and conditions had recently been published and the RUC was to be subjected to its far-reaching accommodation. There was also a government discussion paper – Policing in the Community – on the table, which reflected the widely-held view, detected by Sheehy, that the tripartite arrangements for police governance – involving the Secretary of State, the Chief Constable and Police Authority – needed to be redefined and clarified to make them both more workable and effective.
Police governance in Northern Ireland had not essentially altered or developed during that period of twenty-five years even though the size of the force increased dramatically. The Police and Criminal Evidence Order (N.I.) of 1989 had produced Community and Police Liaison committees (which in turn, by the time I was appointed, needed encouragement and development) and the Lay Visitors Scheme had been introduced. It was not easy to answer a general criticism that the Police Authority was dormant. More severe criticism from some quarters suggested that it was actually stagnant.
Policy areas needing to be addressed: “It should have been, and I would argue that it was, obvious to anyone who was interested in carrying out the Police Authority’s main statutory duty, that three general areas of policy needed to be addressed and they were (and still are) in relation to:
(a) The Symbols of Policing by which I mean the uniform, name and badge of the RUC; the creation of a neutral working environment; the flying of the Union flag on police stations; and the Constable’s Oath of Office.
(b) The Practice of Policing which includes: getting to grips with what community policing actually means; what structures should be adopted for communications between police and many different communities and neighbourhoods; the reform of the complaints system; looking into what is meant by, and whether there would be benefit in, some sort of two-tier policing; and giving thought as to how membership of the Masonic, Orange or Hibernian Orders should be dealt with.
(c) The Reform of the Authority itself which includes: redressing its unrepresentative nature; changing its behaviour from that of a secretive private commercial operation into an accountable open public body; and in the process opening up its meetings to the press and public in ways similar to, if not exactly the same as, Police Authorities in Britain.
These three areas for development and reform were clearly not enough for those whose simple cry was to disband the RUC but I make no apologies at all for making clear my view that they were, and indeed remain, intelligent and valuable ideas which will still have to be addressed sooner or later. I also believe that while, in some respects, they will be challenging for the police themselves, they will contribute to the beneficial development and improvement of policing in Northern Ireland and will be welcomed by intelligent professional policemen and women.
Police Authority: “But an equally important problem so far has been the Police Authority itself and by extension the responsible ministers. As I and a colleague (Chris Ryder, a journalist with many years experience of policing in Northern Ireland, who was appointed to the Police Authority at the same time as myself) moved through various internal discussions and debates (and we were not by any means alone in the Authority), to bring forward ideas and proposals in each of these three areas, the tension rose to a point in January and February of this year when a majority in the Authority simply could not bring themselves to support the modest proposals in these three areas which were being advocated. What had been, very nearly, a majority in favour of them scuttled for cover. Votes of “No Confidence” were passed (by two thirds to one third) in myself and my colleague; and in March 1996 the Secretary of State, who could not conceivably have expected us to do other than propose rational and modest reform, sacked us rather than supporting us in those modest proposals for reform.
“ I believe that I am the only Chairman of any Police Authority anywhere in the UK at any time to be sacked in circumstances arising from differences of opinion about policy.
Deeply-divided society – polarisation: “Lying at the heart of the debate about policing in Northern Ireland is a debate about the nature of the political problem which has to be addressed. You cannot properly address the debate about what changes and developments might be correct and desirable in regard to policing without also addressing and coming to a view on the correct analysis of the fundamental political problem which exists in Northern Ireland.
“Just about a year ago I drafted a Forward to the Police Authority’s Report on the Consultation Process which we had conducted during the whole of 1995, which report I then hoped would be published early in 1996. Many people agree that Northern Ireland is a deeply divided society (although they may not agree on how it is deeply divided, or what the proper consequences of that analysis ought to be), but some, including apparently a majority of the remaining members of the Police Authority, found it very difficult even to acknowledge that those divisions exist. The following sections of the Forward which I wrote were completely excluded from the Report as subsequently published:
“The Northern Ireland society in which we live is now, and has been for one hundred and fifty years or more, increasingly deeply divided. Our sectarian geography has in fact become so rigid that the 1991 census returns indicated that half the population now live in areas that are more than 90% Protestant or more than 90% Catholic. Only about one in fourteen people live in mixed areas where the numbers of Protestants and Catholics are equal. This polarisation is at its most visible in Belfast where the “Peace Walls” delineate territory, but the community boundaries elsewhere in smaller towns and rural areas are equally rigid.
“That polarisation not only spans where we live but runs deep to the very heart of our identity, allegiances, beliefs and aspirations. It embraces cultural and ethnic issues as well as those of constitutional political and religious significance.
“Even the fact that not all citizens see themselves as firmly belonging to one or other of the two main traditions, Protestant and/or Unionist and Roman Catholic and/or Nationalist, does not alter the nature or depth of the divisions which have to be addressed. Although the relative sizes of the main and other groups in society will very properly affect the details of how the divisions are to be addressed, the basic need to do so is not affected in principal by which tradition happens at any particular time to have the majority or minority support.
“In recognising this diversity, it must be emphasised that all non-violent, cultural and political standpoints and views are entirely legitimate and cannot, indeed must not, be smothered. As they will not go away they ought not to be and cannot be addressed by means which predicate assimilation.
“It is now clear that however difficult it may be to achieve, accommodation and not assimilation is the way in which this divided society will be governed. There can be no domination or suppression of one side or the other. Instead we must move to accommodation and agreement in line with principles of plurality, tolerance and reconciliation.”
– “I stand by that analysis. The deep division in Northern Ireland is not simply between Protestant and Catholic but between Unionists and Nationalists (never mind Loyalist and Republicans which, for the sake of this argument, I include in the generic titles of Unionists and Nationalists). However difficult it may be to address that division and find a way of bridging it and explaining it to each other, to ignore the fact that that is the main division, or to sweep it under the carpet, is simply to store up trouble.
Accommodation: “The old notion that assimilation is either possible or desirable is dead – Nationalists are not going to become good little Unionists any more than Unionists are going to become good little Nationalists. And therefore, we must find some accommodation between the two, and accommodation must mean some arrangement or agreement or series of arrangements or agreements which involve both parties to the arrangement changing some previously cherished points of view and, in short, both parties making some compromise of previously held positions.
Constitutional arrangements: “This process will lead to new arrangements both in regard to the constitutional arrangements which Northern Ireland has with Britain as part of the UK, and with the Republic, and also in regard to how Northern Ireland itself is governed and administered internally.
“But it is not the purpose of this paper to detail what all those new arrangements can, should or will be. What I want to emphasise here is that we would not be in this position if there were not a fundamental disagreement about the nature of the State itself. This has consequences for policing in Northern Ireland which have not been sufficiently addressed in the past, and are certainly not sufficiently addressed by Unionist commentators simply asserting that it is the duty of the RUC to uphold the Union.
Duty of police service: “I would argue that it is not now, and never has been, the duty of the police service in any developed society to defend the State as such. The defence of the State as such (when that is required) is the job of Government by conventional political means extended, as and when necessary, by the application at home and abroad, of military force. The police service in European countries has not been developed for the purpose of defending the State and it is not what its job should now be.
“That is not to say that the police in modern society should not energetically tackle crime, including, where it occurs, politically-motivated crime and violence designed to achieve political aims. Nor is it to say that a police service in a modern state will not have proper public order duties to perform. There is ultimately no justice without order and the police service has an important, indeed crucial role, in preserving order in any society.
“But neither the tackling of politically-motivated crime, nor the preservation of order, should be confused with the defence of the State as such, even in Northern Ireland where, as we have seen this last two years, the preservation of order is the single biggest policing problem facing the police service. It is important that the police should not be thought of as defending the State or that its role should be confused with defending the State. This is more especially the case in Northern Ireland where there is such fundamental disagreement about the nature of the State itself.
“I have already referred to Sir Robert Mark. About 25 years ago he said “The police are not the servants of Government at any level. We do not act at the behest of a minister or any political party, not even the party in government. We act on behalf of the people as a whole.”
Operational independence: “The separation or distancing of the police from the party in power at any level which Sir Robert Mark very properly sought for the police, does not mean that there are not proper and sophisticated accountability mechanisms which should be applied in policing governance. But it does emphasise the importance of the policy of proper operational independence with which, I think, very few commentators on policing disagree.
Servants of the people: “But the policy of operational independence for the police is derived from the fact that the police are not the servants of Government at any level. They are the servants of, and act on behalf of, all the people. They are not the defenders of the State as such and therein lies the rationale for the correct proposition that the police can and must act professionally and must be culturally and politically even-handed and neutral. The proper price of operational independence is that political neutrality. That should be so in any society. But it must apply with particular force in a society as deeply divided as is Northern Ireland.
Symbols: “And that is in turn why amongst many policing issues which require to be addressed in Northern Ireland, the symbols of policing are so important. Where the polity which it has to police is deeply divided, it is both in the interests of the police and their duty, to make it clear, as did Sir Robert Mark, that they are not the servants of the Government or of any party in the State. In Northern Ireland it would be as wrong for the police to be aligned with Nationalists, or, for that matter, with the Alliance Party, as it would be for them to be aligned with the Unionist parties.
“In a society in which symbols are important, the police have an inherent policing duty to find in their working practices an accommodation in regard to symbols which takes account of the interests of all the citizens in the society which they police so that, in the words of Sir Robert Mark, they can “act on behalf of the people as a whole”. In the case of the police, political and cultural neutrality is both a virtue and a duty and the Daily Telegraph was wrong to assert otherwise.”
Chair: On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, John Clancy thanked the speakers “for setting us challenging positions on the issue of policing in Northern Ireland.” He explained that the Meath Peace Group had invited the Police Authority for Northern Ireland to send a speaker but they were unable to accept the invitation on this occasion. They had, however, sent copies of their reports on community consultations undertaken by the Police Authority in 1995 and 1996. [Extracts from both publications are included in Appendix B of this report]. The CAJ had also sent copies of their publication The Misrule of Law along with copies of the executive summary to this report. [Extracts are included in Appendix A of this report.]
John Clancy continued: “David mentioned the demographic consolidations that have occurred in N.I., and I would like to quote from another document, Policing in Northern Ireland – Options for the Future (a paper prepared by the Conference on Religious in Ireland) where the following statistics are given: “In 1994 over 50% of the people of Northern Ireland lived in areas with less than 10% of members of the other tradition. Fewer than 100, 000 – approximately 7% – live in areas with an equal proportion of each religion. Of the 51 electoral wards in Belfast, 35 contain at least 90% of one religion…” I found that statistic interesting when I read the results of the attitude survey contained in the 1995 Police Authority report where there is a uniformity across the board, despite those demographic consolidations. ……… These are, I would say, signs of hope. I would advise everyone to get informed and I now call for questions from the floor.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (summary of main points only)
1. The chairman was asked to read out the Oath of Office of an RUC officer and the Oath of an officer in Scotland:
Oath of office of a constable in Scotland:
“I hereby do solemnly and sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of constable.”
The Oath of Office in Northern Ireland which is similar to that in use in England and Wales, reads as follows:
“I (name) swear by Almighty God that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady the Queen in the office of (rank) without favour or affection, malice or ill-will; that I will to the best of my power cause the peace to be kept and preserved and that I will prevent to the best of my power all offences against the same; and that, while I shall continue to hold the said office, I will faithfully, according to law, to the best of my skill and knowledge, discharge all the duties of the said office and all such duties as may be attached to such office by law and that I do not now belong to and that I will not, while I shall hold the said office, belong to any association, society, or confederacy formed for or engaged in any seditious purpose, or any purpose tending to disturb the public peace, or in any way disloyal to our Sovereign Lady the Queen and that I will not, while I shall hold the said office, engage or take part in the furthering of any such purpose, or take or administer, or assist or be present at or consent to the administering of, any oath or engagement binding myself or any other person to engage in any such purpose.”
David Cook explained that there were 2 issues here:
1) service to the Queen – the Scottish oath doesn’t have this, and
2) historical aspects, introduced in 1835
Q.2. A Louth resident said that we must address the real problems on the ground: “Nationalist people can’t ring the RUC in areas like Crosmaglen. The State is controlled by unionists. Ordinary Catholics can’t go to police in these areas if a crime is carried out, especially in areas like South Armagh”
David Cook: “we need to be careful about statistics. After Drumcree, public opinion polls showed a dramatic fall in attitudes to the RUC in both the Protestant and Catholic communities. Before the ceasefire broke down, calls to the police from Catholic areas were rising. I don’t accept that Catholics don’t call the police.
Q.3. Re police membership of the Orange Order, David Cook said that in England there is concern about Masons. “The original ban on membership of bodies was lifted in 1890. Since then policemen could become members of societies. The code of regulations doesn’t allow political activity. I suggest there should be a register of members”
Q.4. Re Catholics in the RUC: A Drogheda resident said that he believed that Catholics don’t join the RUC because most members of the RUC are perceived to be members of the Orange Order. He felt the RUC were doing a good job at Harryville in containing the hecklers outside the Catholic church. He had been there and witnessed the horrible abuse the RUC had taken from them.
Q.5. On public attitudes since Drumcree , Maggie Beirne said that “a lot of damage was done to confidence in the RUC after Drumcree – their credibility was seriously damaged. The RUC are aware of this. Public attitudes have changed since Drumcree …Drumcree set the process back” [see extracts from 2nd Police Authority report below.]
Q.6. Re flags on police stations, David Cook replied that all countries have days to fly their national flag. Northern Ireland has the same days as the rest of the UK, but has also 3 additional days for flying the flag. He said that police stations in NI and UK are not government buildings. A Cavan resident remarked “we have a situation here where bishops bless the opening of Garda stations, and we have flags in both Catholic and Protestant churches.”
Q.7. On plastic bullets, the question was asked “if you take these away, will they then have to use live ammunition. Aren’t plastic bullets less damaging?” The questioner said that 93% of the RUC are Protestant and over 5, 000 plastic bullets were fired after Drumcree. “Doesn’t it illustrate the lack of Catholics?”
Maggie Beirne replied that the CAJ had asked for public debate about the use of plastic bullets which have killed 17 people in NI, 8 under the age of 18. “They are not used in the rest of the UK, even in serious riots. With the RUC their use is a routine response.” She asked: “how do we get an accountable and responsible police force? The CAJ are looking for an independent review of policing. How can we build a police service that gets everyone’s support?”
David Cook said “we need evidence on the number of petrol bombs thrown. Over 10,000 are believed to have been thrown in that period. If that’s the case, it puts the whole thing in a different light. I do not agree with a complete ban on plastic baton rounds – I haven’t seen HM Inspector’s report, but there are recommendations on the use of plastic bullets in it.”
Q.8. “Were more petrol bombs thrown after Drumcree than before?” He had heard that 2, 000 petrol bombs were thrown in one evening in Derry.
Maggie Beirne: “There are no proper statistics for petrol bombs, whereas the RUC statistics on plastic bullets are available.”
Q.9. Re police tactics itemised in the report The Misrule of Law, which the CAJ felt to be inappropriate or ineffective. [Editor’s note: see relevant extracts from CAJ report are reproduced in Appendix A below]
Q.10. Re observers at contentious parades: Maggie Beirne said that the CAJ feels that independent observers play an important role – they should be neutral observers. There are obvious problems with government observers, she said. Julitta Clancy of the Meath Peace Group felt there was a need for observers who will monitor the whole situation, not just the behaviour of the police. The Group had been invited to observe two contentious parades in Co. Fermanagh. On each occasion they had been asked to observe the behaviour of all groups involved – police, marchers and residents. The Group had produced full reports after each parade and copies were sent to all the groups concerence. In addition, the Meath Peace Group had made submissions to the North Review Body on Parades and Marches, and the follow-up consultation process.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON SPEAKERS:
David S. Cook: Solicitor; senior partner, Sheldon and Stewart Solicitors, Belfast; Chairman of Police Authority for Northern Ireland, 1994-96; founder member and deputy leader of Alliance Party, 1980-84; member of Belfast City Council 1973-85; lord mayor of Belfast, 1978-79; Chairman of the NI Voluntary Trust; Chairman, Craigavon and Banbridge Community Health and Social Services Trust; Vice-President, NI Council on Alcohol 1978-83; Member NI Council, European Movement 1980-84; Governor of Brownlow College.
Maggie Beirne: Maggie Beirne was brought up in London. She is a long-term member of Amnesty International, and worked in the International Secretariat of Amnesty before coming to Northern Ireland and joining the CAJ 5 years ago.
The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ ) is an independent non-governmental organisation affiliated to the International Federation of Human Rights. CAJ takes no position on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and is firmly opposed to the use of political violence. The CAJ seeks to secure the highest standards in the administration of justice in N. I. by ensuring that the government complies with its responsibilities in international human rights law.
APPENDIX A: The Misrule of Law (CAJ, 1996)
This 100-page report discusses the breakdown in the rule of law over the summer  in Northern Ireland. The report argues that the gravity of the summer’s events lies not only in the injuries and deaths which occurred, but also in the damage done to the rule of law. While recognising the difficulties facing any police service trying to maintain public order at a time of tension and upheaval, the report provides a detailed analysis of the policing of the summer’s events:
“The summer of 1996 saw one of the most serious episodes of unrest in Northern Ireland in recent years. The gravity of the event lies not only in the number of deaths or injuries, nor in the damage to property and the disruption in people’s lives, but also in the damage done to the rule of law….. it is a prerequisite of a democratic state that the rule of law and respect for human rights operate as the defining dynamic in the relationship between the government and the governed. No one should be above the law, everyone should be equal before the law, the law itself should be clear, fair and comply with international human rights standards. … It is axiomatic that the rule of law must be enforced by an accountable and representative police service and by an independent judiciary. If this principle is violated it undermines respect for the administration of justice and the integrity of the law, and democracy itself is questioned. ..” [p. 1]
“Political leadership was required this summer and it was sadly lacking. The government – by insisting initially that the question of parading was not one requiring its intervention, by insisting upon the primacy of the police in resolving potential disputes, by being seen to be craven in the face of mob rule, and by being seen sometimes to intervene and sometimes not to do so – has signally failed in its duty. Facing dissent and opposition – even on occasion, violent opposition – the government still has the responsibility for ensuring the maintenance of the rule of law.” [p. 2]
“.. Recent events have illustrated beyond dispute that issues of justice, equity and equality before the law are central to the conflict. Any resolution to the conflict in Northern Ireland depends on principles of justice and fairness being addressed as a matter of urgency.” [p. 5]
1. Police tactics in general: [police tactics used in the summer of 1996 which CAJ felt to be inappropriate or ineffective.]
(a) moving obstructions – street demonstrations: “….demonstrators were pulled along the road by their legs or arms; .. police officers used a particular grip which risked cutting off … a person’s breathing; .. people were grabbed by their nostrils, and others had their ears pulled, and their ankles, legs, wrists or arms twisted. ..“Police policies in this regard need to be re-assessed. There are non-violent methods of moving people; appropriate standards of behaviour and training in this regard are needed.” [p. 12]
(b) hemming people in – police tactics which involved blocking the demonstrators in on all sides: “This rendered it impossible for anyone to leave the demonstration peacefully should they have chosen to give up their protest.” [p.14 and see pp 47-49]
(c)“Communication skills were crucially lacking at important moments … Communication – both good and frequent – is all the more important in situations where tensions are very high, suspicions great and rumour rife. …In any overall review of policing public order situations, attention needs to be given to how to improve police liaison with parade stewards and community representatives, and to improved communication systems.” [p. 14]
(d) use of land rovers: several examples are cited of “provocative and reckless” behaviour [p.15]
(e) aggressive style: accounts of aggressive police tactics. “Too often the demeanour displayed was one of antagonism…It may be very difficult to act in a calm and relaxed manner when one feels at risk, but doing otherwise merely serves to increase the risk of violence erupting, and may well precipitate it.” [p. 17]
(f) weaponry: plastic bullets; live ammunition fired into the air in Ardoyne: “The CAJ has always been opposed to the deployment and use of plastic bullets as a form of crowd control in N.I. … this is a lethal weapon which, of its very nature, results in serious injury and death: to date there have been 17 deaths in N.I., 8 of whom have been children…. The guidelines for its deployment are not in the public domain and therefore the use or abuse of the weapon is not readily subject to public scrutiny… On occasion, the deployment of plastic bullet guns would appear to occur in situations where their primary purpose is to intimidate people… In many instances, the use of plastic bullets has clearly proved counter-productive and has led to an escalation of civil unrest rather than to a defusing of tension.” [p. 25]
Number of plastic bullets fired: “Since 1982 the annual average of bullets fired is just over 1000…. RUC statistics report that 6002 were fired between the 7 and the 14 July 1996 alone…. A particular concern arising from the RUC statistics is the breakdown of usage over the week. …. we need to investigate closely why it was considered necessary to discharge 662 plastic bullets in the period between 7 and 11 July (the period of unionist protests), and more than eight times as many (5340) between 11 and 14 July (the period of nationalist protests).” [p. 29]
Policing – policy choices – Inconsistency:
(a) police presence: “Sometimes the police appeared to remain on the scene beyond the time when their presence was helpful, whereas on other occasions they were not present at all or in insufficient numbers when they probably should have been” [p. 18]
(b) police intervention: “What was the operational logic underlying decisions as to when to intervene and when not to do so? Examples can be found …when the police appear to have chosen not to intervene .. elsewhere, however, the police intervened dramatically and in large numbers”. .. Often it was the nature of the intervention which was problematic… “who decides when and why – to don riot gear, deploy plastic bullet guns ..In some instances police make decisions and notify the public well in advance … in other instances people are left in ignorance of such decisions until very late, or not told at all.” [p. 18]
(c) attitude to the media and politicians; “Why were journalists sometimes given extensive and open access to areas in dispute … but on other occasions excluded or restricted ? .. Why were some political figures given access to certain venues by the police, and others denied similar access?” [p. 19]
(d) ambivalence towards observers: “Sometimes CAJ and other observers were treated with great courtesy and most helpfully by the police, and on other occasions they were treated with contempt or abuse.” [p. 19]
3. Policing and charges of sectarianism: “Effective policing at times of public disorder requires from the police both the reality of, and the perception of, total impartiality . References are made throughout this text to concerns expressed about the RUC’s failure to behave in an even-handed and impartial manner at different points in this period of unrest. …. The RUC, given its history, its powers, and its perceived role in defending a state whose legitimacy is questioned by a sizeable proportion of the population, has frequently been accused of sectarianism. As a force which is 93% Protestant, its sympathy for, or indeed understanding of, the minority community, is frequently questioned. … Against such a historical background of suspicion on the part of many in the minority community, the RUC as an institution has an extremely difficult, and some would say impossible, task in trying to be seen to be impartial. It is all the more crucial, therefore, that the behaviour of individual officers is beyond reproach. Disturbingly however, CAJ observers and others report events which would appear to confirm charges of sectarianism against some members of the RUC. ….. Furthermore, there is evidence that the RUC itself considered the behaviour of some of its officers to have been inappropriate. The Irish News of 5 September 1996 reports that eight RUC officers have been disciplined or investigated in relation to activities during the protests linked to their membership of the Orange Order.” [p. 22]
Some of CAJ recommendations:
1. Review on policing: “a fundamental review of policing is required if society is to ensure a police service that is representative, accountable and responsive to the needs of the whole community”
2. Policing – general: independent international inquiry
3. Commission on Policing
4. Plastic bullets: withdrawal of weapon with immediate effect
5. Public order: marching and human rights: need to look at mechanisms and principles which will allow adjudication of the conflict of rights in a fair and impartial way. International law principles offer some useful guidance.
6. Police accountability: independent police complaints system
Appendix B: Extracts from reports of thePolice Authority for Northern Ireland
1. “Everyone’s Police: A Partnership for Change” ( March 1996). Report on a Community Consultation undertaken by the Police Authority for Northern Ireland in 1995. [extracts below come from the Summary]
Background: On 4 January 1995, the Police Authority for Northern Ireland announced a comprehensive consultation of community opinion on policing and the police. A key element of the consultation initiative was a region-wide publicity campaign, reinforced by the issue of a leaflet inviting every citizen to present in writing his or her views on policing to the Police Authority. Over 600, 000 leaflets were distributed to every residential address in N.I. 7, 974 individuals and groups provided their views by written submissions. The Authority also commissioned 22 questions in a random-sample survey of public opinion. 2, 682 people were interviewed during August-November 1995. The Authority also held 13 meetings across N.I. to which members of the public were invited. The Report presents the results of the consultation exercise and the public opinion survey.
Concerns about crime: “ the Authority’s conclusion is that the community’s overwhelming policing concerns are about crime. Specifically, community anxieties primarily seem to be about drug abuse, community safety and foot patrolling, crime prevention and road traffic. …”
“The consultation also indicates that there is a broad measure of support for the RUC and a high level of satisfaction with the way in which the police deal with the public. There is also a clear view that what people want most from their police is a service which is fair, impartial, professional and effective.”
RUC name, uniform and badge: “the Authority recognises that these are contentious issues. … while the name of the RUC should be left unchanged, the Chief Constable should add the suffix “Northern Ireland’s Police Service” to printed references to the name. The Authority considers that the uniform and the “Harp and Crown” badge .. should be left unchanged.”
Neutral working environment: “The Authority believes that a neutral working environment will help to encourage applicants to the police from all sections of the community… It is committed to the promotion and implementation of the Fair Employment Commission Codes of Practice throughout the Police Authority and the RUC.”
Union flag: “The Authority notes that, in general, public opinion is in favour of the Union Flag being flown on police stations, at least on certain occasions. It is apparent however that a large proportion of Catholics would prefer the flying of the flag to be restricted to those days stipulated for Government buildings. The Authority proposes to consult with the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable about the flying of the Union Flag on public buildings generally.” [At present, Union Flag is to be flown from Government Buildings on 20 days (listed in Appendix 10 of the report)]
Oath of office: “the Authority notes that the oath sworn by RUC officers in not an “Oath of Allegiance” but more properly an “oath of office”. It proposes to consult with the Secretary of State and others with a view to revising the wording of the Oath.”
The Police Authority: “The Authority will support any reasonable proposal for reform aimed at making it a more representative and effective body. However, the independence of the Authority should not be compromised, and the police must remain free from any political or partisan control.”
PROPOSALS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH AND CONSULTATION
The Authority concludes that further consultation and research should be carried out on the following:
- Religious and gender composition of the RUC: Working Party recommended to “consider how best to progress the aim of achieving the required balance in terms of both religion and gender.”
- Relationship between the police and young people and minorities: Working Party recommended
- Community policing: “concepts such as community policing, inter-agency co-operation and the development of community partnerships all have a part to play in improving police effectiveness and building closer relationships between the police and the public.”
- Structures for policing: “The Authority notes evidence of widespread support for a separation of local policing activities from the policing of major crime.”
MATTERS ALREADY UNDER REVIEW:
- Training and re-training; Professional standards; Complaints against the police
- Police accountability; Parades and demonstrations; Relationships with the Garda Siochana; Emergency legislation; Communication with communities; Arms and the police; Regionalised policing
2. “A Partnership for Change” – A Report on Further Consultation by the Police Authority for Northern Ireland
Background: “In the aftermath of the disturbances in July 1996, the RUC handling of the disorder was put under the microscope by politicians, commentators and the media. Emotions were running high during this period and the Authority fully acknowledged the depth of feeling, the sense of hurt and the concern throughout the community. On 15 July 1996 the Secretary of State announced a review of parades and marches. The Authority welcomed this enquiry and gave a commitment to make a submission which would be made public in due course. It was decided that reliable information about community attitudes to policing over the summer period was needed and so the Northern Ireland Statistics Research Agency (NISRA) was commissioned to conduct an opinion survey. The fieldwork period was 2 September to 30 September 1996. The response rate for the period was 66.2% Of those who responded, 38% stated they were Catholic and 58% Protestant. [pp. 1-2]
Main Findings from Survey – summary:
Confidence in the ability of the RUC to provide a police service for all the people of Northern Ireland [pp 3-4]:
Ordinary policing: majority of both Protestants and Catholics declared they had confidence in the ability of the RUC to provide a service. Confidence levels: c. 60% of Catholics; c. 90% of Protestants.
Policing parades, demonstrations and public order situations: Almost two-thirds of Catholics indicated they had little or no confidence in the police. Most respondents who expressed low levels of confidence in the ability of the police to deal with parades and public disorder indicated that their opinion had largely been influence by factors associated with “Drumcree”.
“Both the Authority and the Chief Constable of the RUC have acknowledged that the events of the past summer have undermined the confidence of people both in the police and the rule of law. The Chief Constable said recently that the damage to relationships with the RUC had been particularly marked within the Catholic community. The results of this survey confirm these assessments.” (p. 4)
Fairness of Treatment [p. 4] “There is a wide divergence of opinion between Protestants and Catholics about whether the police treat everyone equally. While around 80% of Protestants believe that their local police treat everyone equally, this view is shared by only 50% of Catholics. When asked about equality of treatment across the whole country, over two-thirds of Catholics said that Protestants are treated more favourably.”
Performance of the Police [pp. 4-5] “..Two-thirds of people thought that, in general, their local police were doing a good job. Protestants were more likely to hold this view than were Catholics, a quarter of whom felt that the performance of their local police was poor…. A greater proportion of Catholics (one-third) believe that the police outside their local area do a poor job, whereas the Protestant view of performance remained much the same in both respects.”
The Future of the RUC [pp. 6-7]“ …Altogether, over three-quarters of Catholic respondents believe that the RUC should be either reformed or replaced, while around 60% of Protestants want it to carry on as at present. Almost one-third of Protestants believe that the RUC should be reformed…. The responses show that more people now hold the view that change is needed. Reforming the RUC has become increasingly favoured by both Catholic and Protestant respondents…”
Controls on Marches [p. 7] “…When asked who should decide whether a controversial parade should be allowed to go through an area, around 55% of Catholics said that it should be left to the local residents. Leaving the decision to the Chief Constable was the most favoured option of Protestants. However a significant body of opinion among both Catholic and Protestant respondents considered that such decisions should be taken by a group set up specifically for the purpose.”
Police treatment of demonstrators. [p. 7] “…Almost two-thirds of Protestants felt that Protestant and Catholic demonstrators were treated equally. However, three-quarters of Catholic respondents said that Protestant demonstrators were treated more favourably.”
Plastic baton rounds [pp. 7-8] “.. nearly two-thirds of Catholics said that plastic baton rounds were used more against Catholics than Protestants, while almost three-quarters of Protestants stated that they were used equally against both sides.”
Number of plastic baton rounds fired during the disorder: “..at a special meeting to consider the handling of the Drumcree disorder … the Chief Constable … advised the Authority that there had been in the region of 8, 000 petrol bomb incidents… During this period over 6, 000 plastic baton rounds had been fired by police in response to the petrol bombs, with around 90% being fired at nationalist crowds who were responsible for around 90% of the petrol bombing incidents” [p. 8]
The Way Forward Policing a “Divided Society” [pp. 9-11]: “…What they [the people of Northern Ireland] want is a police service which will be free to operate everywhere in N.I. with the consent and co-operation of the entire community, with its officers, drawn from all localities and backgrounds, delivering an impartial, professional, effective and accountable service to the entire community. The police alone cannot deliver this. What is needed most is for politicians, community leaders and people in a position of influence to work together to create a climate in which the diversity of our traditions may be recognised, tolerated and accommodated. In the absence of political progress the RUC will continue to face the problem of having to police a society where political disagreement is often manifested by street disorder or violence.”
Meath Peace Group Report. 1997. Compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy
©Meath Peace Group
Contact names 1997: Anne Nolan (Treasurer), Slane, Co. Meath; Julitta and John Clancy, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Pauline Ryan, Navan; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Michael Kane, An Tobar, Ardbraccan