The Royal Ulster Constabulary GC was the name of the police force in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 2001. It was founded on 1 June 1922 out of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), the Belfast Borough Police Force and the Derry Borough Police Force (known colloquially as the "Derry City Force" - a name which stayed for many years). At its peak the force had around 8,500 officers with a further 4,500 who were members of the RUC Reserve. During the Troubles, over 300 members of the RUC were killed and almost 9,000 injured in paramilitary assassinations or attacks, mostly by the Provisional IRA, which made the RUC (in 1983) the most dangerous police force in the world of which to be a member.
It became the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in 2001. The RUC was not disbanded, but renamed with assorted simultaneous reforms, as is provided for by the final version of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. - The RUC was continually accused by sections of the Nationalist community and human rights groups of one-sided policing and discrimination, and collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries. Conversely, the RUC was praised by other security forces as one of the most professional policing operations in the world. The allegations regarding collusion have prompted several inquiries, the most recent of which was published by Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan.
Under section 60 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920, Northern Ireland was placed under the jurisdiction of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). On 31 January 1921, Richard Dawson Bates, the first Minister of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland, appointed a committee of inquiry on police organisation in Northern Ireland. It was asked to advise on any alterations to the existing police necessary for the formation of a new force (i.e. recruitment and conditions of service, composition, strength and cost).
An interim report was published on 28 March 1922, the first official report of the new Parliament of Northern Ireland, and it was subsequently accepted by the Northern Ireland Government. On 29 April 1922, King George V granted to the force the name Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). In May, the Parliament of Northern Ireland passed the Constabulary Act 1922 and the RUC officially came into existence on 1 June. The headquarters of the force was established at Atlantic Buildings, Waring Street, in Belfast, and became the first Inspector General. The uniform remained essentially the same as that of the RIC - a dark green, as opposed to the dark blue worn by the other British police forces and the Garda Síochána. A new badge of the Red Hand of Ulster on a St George's cross surrounded by a chain was designed but proved unpopular and was never uniformly adopted. Eventually the Harp & Crown insignia of the Order of St Patrick as worn by the RIC was readopted.
From the beginning it had a dual role, unique among British police forces, of providing a normal law enforcement police service while protecting Northern Ireland from the activities of proscribed groups. For personal protection its members were armed as the RIC had been.
The RUC was limited by statute to a 3,000-strong force. Initially, a third of positions within the force were reserved for Roman Catholics - a reflection of the proportions of the population of Northern Ireland at that time. The first two thousand places were filled quickly. Due to a slow recruitment rate from Catholics, the force resorted to normal recruitment in order to fill the remaining vacancies. As a result, representation of Catholics in the RUC never exceeded 20% and, by the 1960s, it had a Catholic representation of 12%.
The RUC were supported by the Ulster Special Constabulary, a volunteer body of part-time auxiliary police established before the Northern Ireland Government was set up, who had been given uniforms and training. The RUC's senior officer, the Inspector General, was appointed by the Governor of Northern Ireland and was responsible to the Minister of Home Affairs in the Northern Ireland Government for the maintenance of law and order.
Neither the newly established Irish Free State nor Northern Ireland had an auspicious beginning. The polarised political climate in Northern Ireland resulted in violence from both sides of the political and religious divide. The lawlessness that affected Northern Ireland in the period of the early twenties, and the problems it caused for the police, are indicated in a police report drawn up by District Inspector R.R. Spears in February 1923. Referring to the situation in Belfast after July 1921 he states: "For twelve months after that, the city was in a state of turmoil. The IRA (Irish Republican Army) was responsible for an enormous number of murders, bombings, shootings and incendiary fires. The work of the police against them was, however, greatly hampered by the fact that the rough element on the Protestant side entered thoroughly into the disturbances, met murder with murder and adopted in many respects the tactics of the rebel gunmen. In the endeavour to cope simultaneously with the warring factions the police efforts were practically nullified. They were quite unable to rely on the restraint of one party while they dealt with the other". About 90 police officers were killed between 1920 and 1922 in what would become Northern Ireland. The security forces were also reportedly implicated in reprisal killings of Catholics, notably the McMahon Murders on March 26 1922, in which six Catholics were killed and the Arnon Street Massacre on April 1, where another six were shot dead in retaliation for the IRA killing of a policeman.
By the mid-twenties the situation had calmed down. Northern Ireland enjoyed a peace, interrupted only occasionally, for the next forty-five years. The murder rate was lower than in the rest of the UK and the crime detection rate was higher. The 1920s and 1930s were years of economic austerity. Many of Northern Ireland's traditional industries, notably linen and shipbuilding, were in recession. This contributed to the already high level of unemployment. Serious rioting broke out in 1932 in Belfast in protest at the inadequate nature of Poor Law relief and the threat of rioting was ever present.
In response to the growth of motorised transport the RUC Traffic Branch was formed on 1 January 1930. In 1936 the police depot at Enniskillen was formally opened and an £800,000 scheme to create a network of 196 police barracks throughout Northern Ireland by rationalizing or repairing the 224 premises inherited from the RIC was under way. In May 1937 a new white glass lamp with the RUC crest went up for the first time to replace the RIC crest still on many stations. About the same time the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Belfast was significantly expanded, with a detective head constable being appointed to head the CID force in each of the five Belfast police districts.
Sporadic IRA activity in the 1930s also required that the RUC be vigilant. In 1937, on the occasion of the visit of the King and Queen to the province, the IRA blew up a number of customs posts. In 1939. an IRA bombing campaign was launched in England. This campaign effectively ended on the 25 August, a few days before the outbreak of the Second World War. The war brought additional responsibilities for the police. The security of the land border with neutral Ireland was one important consideration. Allied to this was a greatly increased incidence of smuggling due to rationing, to the point where police virtually became revenue officers. There were also many wartime regulations to be enforced, including 'black-out' requirements on house and vehicle lights, the protection of post office and bank monies, and restrictions on the movement of vehicles and use of petrol. The RUC was a 'reserved occupation', i.e. the police force was deemed essential to the war effort on the Home Front and its members were forbidden to leave to join the other services.
The wartime situation gave a new urgency to the discussions regarding the appointment of women police. The Ministry of Home Affairs finally gave approval to the enrolment of women as members of the RUC on 16 April 1943. with the first six recruits starting on 15 November. Post-war policies brought about the gradual improvement in the lot of the RUC, interrupted only by a return to hostilities by the IRA. The IRA's border campaign of 1957-1962 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 42 hour work week was introduced.
Policing in a divided society:
Policing Northern Ireland's divided society proved difficult, as each community (nationalist and unionist) had different attitudes towards the institutions of the state. To unionists, the state had full legitimacy, as did its institutions, its parliament, the Crown and its police force. Northern Ireland's Catholics, overwhelmingly nationalists, had been told by their leaders that Partition was temporary. They and their politicians had therefore refused to take part in the Province's institutions in the mistaken belief that Northern Ireland would be ceded to the South. The Catholic Church had forbidden any kind of fraternisation with Protestants. Unionist fears of fundamental government services being infiltrated by Catholics disloyal to the new state polarised society and made many Catholics unwilling or unable to join the police or civil service.
This mindset was expressed by David Trimble in the following terms: "Ulster Unionists, fearful of being isolated on the island, built a solid house, but it was a cold house for Catholics. And northern nationalists, although they had a roof over their heads, seemed to us as if they meant to burn the house down".
From a nationalist perspective, the tone was set for the force at an early stage, when Dawson Bates in August 1922 gave the Orange Order special permission for an Orange Lodge to be formed in the RUC. In April 1923 he would speak at its first reunion, later however involvement in politics was "discouraged". In 1924 John Nixon a District Inspector would be dismissed after widespread complaints after making a "fiercely Unionist" speech at an Orange Order function. Despite this the force's character had been fixed according to Irish nationalist activist and author Michael Farrell. According to Farrell they were looked upon by most Catholics as simply the "coercive arm of the Unionist Party". The minister with responsibility was an Orangeman, with a police Orange Lodge; therefore he contends the RUC could scarcely be unbiased where the Unionist Party or the Orange Order was concerned. An enquiry by the British National Council for Civil Liberties in 1936 stated: "it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the attitude of the government renders the police chary of interference with the activities of the Orange Order and its sympathisers".
On 4 April 1922 the RIC was disbanded. On 7 April the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922 came into force, and the Belfast government though prohibited from raising or controlling a military force appointed Major General Solly Flood as a military advisor.
The RUC was to be 3,000-strong, recruiting 2,000 ex-RIC and 1,000 A Specials. Half of the RIC men recruited were to be Catholic, making up a third of positions within the force. Fewer than half the required number of Catholics came forward and the balance was made up with more A Specials, who continued to exist as a separate force.
Throughout its existence, republican political leaders and Roman Catholic clergy urged members of the nationalist community not to join the RUC. Social Democratic and Labour Party Member of Parliament (MP) and critic of the force Seamus Mallon, who later served as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, stated that the RUC was "97% Protestant and 100% unionist".
The RUC did attract some Roman Catholic members. These men were for the most part former members of the RIC, who came north from the Irish Republic after the Irish Free State was set up. 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. 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 disproportionally small in terms of the Catholic percentage of the overall Northern Irish population. Notable exceptions include RUC Chief Constable Sir James Flanagan KBE (Derry), Deputy Chief Constable Michael McAtamney, Assistant Chief Constable Cathal Ramsey, Chief Superintendent Frank Lagan as well as RUC Superintendents Kevin Benedict Sheehy (Glengormley) and Brendan McGuigan.
In December 1997, London's The Independent newspaper published a leaked internal RUC document which reported that a third of all Catholic RUC officers had suffered religious discrimination and/or harassment from Protestant fellow officers.
The civil rights protests at the end of the 1960s, and the reaction to them, 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 Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association protests were banned or truncated by the government of Northern Ireland. The B Specials, proved highly controversial to some, with the unit seen by some nationalists as more anti-Catholic and anti-nationalist than the RUC, which, unlike the B Specials, did attract some Catholic recruits. The severe pressure on the RUC and B-Specials led, during the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969, to the British Army being called in to support the civil administration under Operation Banner. Initially the army was welcomed by Catholic nationalists in preference to the RUC and in particular the B Specials (who were stood down on 30 April 1970). The Catholics mostly turned away from the Army over perceptions of unequal treatment and abuse, such as the events at Duke Street in Derry and Burntollet Bridge.
The high level of civil disturbance led to an exhaustive inquiry into the disturbances in Northern Ireland carried out by the distinguished English judge Lord Scarman, the then Home Secretary, James Callaghan, called on Lord Hunt to assess and advise on the policing situation. He was assisted in this task by Sir Robert Mark, who later became Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, and Sir James Robertson, the then Chief Constable of Glasgow.
The report was published on 3 October 1969 and most of the recommendations subsequently accepted and implemented. The aim being a complete reorganisation of the RUC, with the aim of both modernizing the force and bringing it into line with the other police forces in the UK. This meant the introduction of the British rank and promotion structure, the creation of 12 Police Divisions and 39 Sub-Divisions, the disbandment of the Ulster Special Constabulary, and the creation of a Police Authority representative of the whole community.
Callaghan asked Sir Arthur Young, Commissioner of the City of London Police, to be seconded for a year. Young's appointment began the long process of turning the RUC into a British police service. The RUC Reserve was formed as an auxiliary police force, and all military-style duties were handed over to the newly formed Ulster Defence Regiment, which was under military command and replaced the B Specials.
Callaghan picked Young, a career policeman, because no other British policeman could match his direct experience of policing acutely unstable societies and of reforming gendarmeries. From 1943 to 1945, he was Director of Public Safety and Director of Security in the military government of Allied-occupied Italy. Later, he had been seconded to the Federation of Malaya at the height of the Malayan Emergency (1952-53) and to the crown colony of Kenya during Mau Mau (1954).
The first deaths of the Troubles occurred in July 1969. Francis McCloskey, a 67-year old Catholic civilian had been found unconscious on 13 July near the Dungiven Orange Hall following a police baton charge against a crowd who had been throwing stones at the hall. Witnesses later said they had seen police batoning a figure in the doorway where McCloskey was found, although police claimed that he had been unconscious before the baton charge and may have been hit with a stone. He was taken to hospital and died the following day. On 11 October 1969, Constable Victor Arbuckle was shot dead by loyalists on Belfast's Shankill Road during serious rioting in protest at the recommendations of the Hunt Report. He became the first police fatality of the Troubles. In August 1970, two young constables, Donaldson and Millar, died when an abandoned car they were examining near Crossmaglen exploded. They became the first victims of the re-organized Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) campaign. This campaign involved the targeting of police officers, and continued until the final ceasefire in 1997, as the peace process gained momentum. (The last police officer to be murdered was Constable O'Reilly (a Catholic), who was killed by a Loyalist bomb in September 1998 during the Drumcree conflict.)
In March 1972, the Government of Northern Ireland resigned and the parliament was prorogued. Northern Ireland subsequently came under direct rule from Westminster with its own Secretary of State, who had overall responsibility for security policy. Starting in late 1982, a number of IRA and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) men were shot dead by the RUC. This 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, although all were subsequently found not guilty.
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 five hundred homes, of Catholics and RUC officers in the mid-1980s. At least 150 RUC families were forced to move as a result.
In 1998 Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan stated in an interview on television that he was unhappy with any RUC officers belonging to the Orange Order or any of the other loyal orders. While the RUC refused to give any details on how many officers were members of the Order, thirty-nine RUC officers are listed on the Order's Roll of Honour (of Orangemen killed in the conflict).
The size of the RUC increased on several occasions. At its height, there were 8,500 regular police officers supported by about 5,000 full-time and part-time reserve officers, making it the second largest force in the United Kingdom after the Metropolitan Police in London. The direction and control of the RUC was in the hands in the Chief Constable, who was assisted by two Deputy Chief Constables and nine Assistant Chief Constables. For operational purposes, Northern Ireland was divided into twelve Divisions and thirty-nine Sub-Divisions. RUC ranks, duties, conditions of service and pay were generally in line with those of police forces in Great Britain.
According to official British sources, 314 officers were killed and over nine thousand were injured during the history of the RUC. All but twelve of the dead were killed in the Troubles (1969 to 1998), of whom 277 were killed in attacks by Irish Republican groupings. However, according to the CAIN project at the University of Ulster, 301 active RUC officers were killed and 18 ex-RUC officers, which would total 319 fatalities during the Troubles.
Twenty former RUC officers were killed by acts of terrorism after leaving the service while two members of the Police Authority and three of its employees were killed between 1972 and 1994.
The Newry mortar attack by the Provisional IRA on an RUC station in 1985, which killed nine officers, was the highest number of deaths inflicted on the RUC in one incident.
The last RUC officer to be killed as a direct result of the conflict died on the 6th of October 1998, a month after he had been injured in a Red Hand Defenders pipe-bomb attack in Portadown.
On 1 July 1992, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a detailed report on RUC and paramilitary violations against children's rights during 'The Troubles'. Both Catholic and Protestant children alleged regular and severe physical assault and mental harassment at the hands of RUC officers, usually conducted to force a false confession of a crime. In an accompanying statement, HRW said:
Police officers and soldiers harass young people on the street hitting, kicking and insulting them. Police officers in interrogation centres insult, trick and threaten youngsters and sometimes physically assault them. Children are locked up in adult detention centres and prisons in shameful conditions. The extent of the violence inflicted on children is appalling. Helsinki Watch heard dozens of stories from children, their parents, lawyers, youth workers and political leaders of children being stopped on the street and hit, kicked and abused again and again by police and soldiers. And seventeen-year-olds told Helsinki Watch of severe beatings in detention during interrogations by police.
No response has been issued by the British Government, or by Northern Ireland paramilitaries despite requests from various European bodies and human rights organisations.
The Belfast Agreement produced a whole scale reorganisation of inter-community, governmental and policing systems, including a power-sharing executive with David Trimble and the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party's (SDLP) Seamus Mallon (later replaced by new party leader Mark Durkan) as co-chairmen. The perceived bias, and the clear under-representation of Catholics and nationalists in the RUC led to, as part of the Belfast Agreement (1998), a fundamental policing review, headed by Chris Patten, a former Hong Kong Governor and British Conservative Minister under Margaret Thatcher. The review was published in September 1999. It recommended a wholesale reorganisation of policing, with the Royal Ulster Constabulary being renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), and a greater drive to recruit Catholic recruits and should adopt a new crest and cap badge.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was introduced in November 2001. As part of the change, the police service dropped the word "Royal" from everyday usage and adopted a new badge that included the crown, harp, and shamrock, an attempt at shared identification with both communities.
Elements of the RUC are alleged to have colluded extensively with loyalist paramilitaries throughout the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland. Particularly prominent in this regard were the actions of the specialist anti-terrorist unit, the Special Patrol Group. This unit was formed in the early 1970s and was disbanded in 1980 after two of its members were convicted of terrorist offences including kidnap and murder. The two, John Weir and Billy McCaughey implicated their colleagues in a range of crimes including giving weapons, information and transport to loyalist paramilitaries as well as carrying out shooting and bombing attacks of their own.
The Stevens Inquiry:
On 18 April 2003 as part of the third report into collusion between Loyalist paramilitaries, RUC, and British Army, Sir John Stevens published an Overview and Recommendations document (Stevens 3). Stevens intention was to make recommendations which arose from serious shortcomings he had identified in all three Enquiries. In his autobiography, Stevens was at pains to point out the outstanding loyalty and shared dedication to justice that he experienced from many RUC officers. He mentions many names including Detective Superintendent Maurice Neely, who died in the 1994 Chinook air crash.
The third Stevens Inquiry began in 1999, and referred to his previous reports when making his recommendations. Stevens third inquiry focused in detail on only two of the murders in which collusion is alleged; the murder of Brian Adam Lambert in 1987 & the killing of Pat Finucane in 1989.
Stevens used the following criteria as a definition of collusion while conducting his investigation:
The failure to keep records or the existence of contradictory accounts which could limit the opportunity to rebut serious allegations.
The absence of accountability which could allow acts or omissions by individuals to go undetected.
The withholding of information which could impede the prevention of crime and the arrest of suspects.
The unlawful involvement of agents in murder which could imply that the security forces sanction killings.
Noted in the report was that as a result of the Stevens 3 inquiries and up to the date of publication there had been 144 arrests with 94 people convicted, along with fifty-seven separate reports submitted to the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions.
In a report released on the 22 January 2007, the Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan stated Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) informers committed serious crimes, including murder, with the full knowledge of their handlers. The report stated Special Branch officers created false statements, blocked evidence searches and "baby-sat" suspects during interviews. Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) councillor and former Police Federation chairman Jimmy Spratt said if the report "had had one shred of credible evidence then we could have expected charges against former Police Officers. There are no charges, so the public should draw their own conclusion, the report is clearly based on little fact". However, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain said that he was "convinced that at least one prosecution will arise out of today's report".
Awards for gallantry for individual officers since 1969 included 16 George Medals, 103 Queen's Gallantry Medals, 111 Queen's Commendations for Bravery and 69 Queen's Police Medals.
On 12 April 2000, the RUC was awarded the George Cross for bravery in dealing with terrorist threat, a rare honour which had only been awarded collectively once before, to the island nation of Malta.
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 was seconded for a year from the City of London Police to implement the Hunt Report and disarm the police and disband the Ulster Special Constabulary ('B' Specials). Under Young the title was changed to Chief Constable in line with the recommendations of the Hunt Report. Young and six others held the job until the RUC was incorporated to the new Police Service. The final incumbent, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, became the first Chief Constable of the PSNI.