RUC - the status quo is not an option
By Laura Friel
The RUC has supported, indeed protected and promoted within its ranks, those who have systematically abused the human rights of nationalists and republicans,
said Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin at a Republican Commemoration in County Tipperary last week.
``It is clear that the British government and the Unionists must reject out of hand any notion of the new policing service being a `Continuity' RUC,'' he said.
This week began with three more compelling examples why the question of policing in the North remains central to the current peace process. The first involves a 14 year old North Belfast school boy who was attacked by an RUC patrol last Saturday night. The second relates to the pending arrests of two senior RUC Special Branch officers in connection with the 1989 killing of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane.In a scenario reminiscent of Robert Hamill, the third reflects the ongoing ambivalence of the RUC towards loyalist violence .
On Saturday July 22, Eamon Meehan, a 14 year old school boy from North Belfast was beaten with batons, punched and kicked by a group of RUC officers. During the assault, Eamon was held by the throat by one RUC officer. The teenager was saved from more serious injury by his mother who threw herself on top of Eamon, shielding him from further blows.
Meanwhile two senior RUC officers are to be arrested and questioned about collusion with loyalist death squads. The two Special Branch men are to be interviewed by the Stevens' inquiry team about the killing of Pat Finucane. They will also be questioned about the killing of 19 year old Adam Lambert, a building worker shot dead in mistaken belief that he was a Catholic in 1987.
The RUC officers facing arrest are former handlers of UDA quartermaster William Stobie who is currently facing murder charges in relation to the two deaths. During recent court hearings Stobie's lawyer claimed his client was the ``only man who did anything to try and stop the murder of Pat Finucane'' by warning his RUC handlers.
On Friday July 21, the RUC failed to intervene when an elderly nationalist was attacked and beaten by a gang of loyalists in Ballynahinch. The RUC ignored an earlier complaint about the loyalist gang who had been drinking and throwing bottles in Market Square. The elderly man was smashed over the head with a bottle and kicked unconscious. The RUC made no attempt to administer first aid to the striken man.
Earlier this month Sinn Féin launched a detailed document criticising the British government's Policing Bill, legislation currently making its passage through the British parliament. In the document Policing - A New Beginning?' Sinn Féin pointed to 89 recommendations by the Patten Commission which have been deliberately subverted in the proposed legislation.
Although there are 175 recommendations in the Patten Report, a significant number of these related to non-contentious matters relevant to the management of any policing service. Only 75 of the recommendations could be described as fundamental to the requirement for a new beginning for policing envisioned in Patten. Out of these key recommendations, 60 have been undermined and prospects for the remaining 15 are unclear.
Significantly, political control over the timing and implementation of a majority of these recommendations remain in the hands of the current RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan, the NIO and the British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson. Of the 33 core recommendations relating to accountability, the Police Board obtains primacy in just 8.
46 out of 75 key recommendations remain solely in the hands of the RUC Chief Constable. Most of these are in the crucial categories of demilitarisation, decentralisation, depoliticisation, community policing and change.
Tracing developments in the policing issue, Sinn Féin pointed out that from the outset there were powerful interest groups intent on thwarting the possibility of securing fundamental change. ``The NIO sought to undermine nationalist and republican hopes of the [Patten] Commission by packing it with individuals who would have little sympathy with or understanding of nationalism.''
The Commission's secretariat was undermined by the presence of RUC officers and civil servants from the most reactionary parts of the NIO, said Sinn Féin, yet despite this the Patten report represented an attempt to produce a compromise. But the ink was barely dry when a plot to undermine Patten was being hatched by the RUC Chief Constable.
Ronnie Flanagan established his own `change management' team which included senior RUC officers, ``to quietly put together a plan to undermine the new start envisaged by Patten.'' In addition, securocrats in the NIO took forward a plan to draft legislation to replicate the form but not the substance of the Patten model for a new beginning to policing.
Meanwhile Unionists and some RUC officers campaigned vigorously and noisily against changes to the symbols and name. Add to this an arrogant British Secretary of State who ``decided that he knew better than the panel of independent Commissioners, the panel his own government was responsible for choosing,'' and the plot to undermine Patten was up and running.
``The problem now is that the British government see compromise being somewhere between their plans and Patten,'' said Sinn Féin, ``this could undermine the huge potential for stable politics in Ireland and the safety and security in local neighbourhoods dependent on a new start to policing. Many nationalist politicians have made clear that Patten was the compromise.''
``What can Ulster Unionists find objectionable in the concept of a politically neutral Police Service?'' asked Mitchel McLaughlin. ``The approach being taken by the Unionist parties, the Police Federation and their supporters only reinforces the belief that their motivation is to retain the allegiance of any new police service to the cause of unionism.''
For Unionists it's not about names, symbols and badges, said McLaughlin, it's about maintaining control:
``These are the weapons they will use to block the changes that are necessary A new beginning to policing as negotiated and contained in the Good Friday Agreement cannot be achieved by retaining those very things that contributed to making the RUC unacceptable to republicans and nationalists ever since the force was established.''
The status quo is not an option.