One of the political campaigns I was proudest to be involved in was the effort to retain the name of the Royal Ulster Constabulary at the turn of the Millennium. I flew to Northern Ireland twice that year and attended meetings organised to securing the great name of a force that had been instrumental in preventing a medium-level sectarian stand-off degenerating into a full-blown civil war. Patten’s report on the future of policing in Northern Ireland had been published which, to me and many others, looked more like an institutional assassination attempt than a genuine means to map out a future for the force in the supposedly post-ceasefire environment. The RUC, lest we forget, struggled to recruit Catholic officers not because of some widespread sectarian ethos, but because Catholic officers were always singled out by the IRA and other republican terrorists for assassination. Even at its genesis in 1922 and the immediate years thereafter, when Catholics were discouraged from joining by both republican party leaders and members of the Catholic clergy, the force still managed to have a fifth of its officers drawn from the Catholic community. Over the years, the Catholics in the RUC included those in the high-ranking positions of one Chief Constable, one Deputy Chief Constable, one Assistant Chief Constable, one Chief Superintendent and two Superintendents. It was only with the onset of the Troubles, as experienced officers retired and potential new Catholic recruits were heavily discouraged from pursuing a career in the police by threats of violence, that the total number dwindled. When the debate on the RUC came before the Lords in October 2000 the great civil rights campaigner and Catholic politician, Gerry Fitt, declared:
‘Many Catholics think as I do; namely, that in the present situation, the RUC has been humiliated and demonised by a bloodthirsty band of murderers who have been carrying out the most atrocious crimes on the island of Ireland over the past 30 years.’
Those words will still resonate with many nearly a quarter of a century later.
Having sadly failed in our campaign, I became the proud owner of a a RUC plaque that still adorns my dining room wall. There was some consolation as the force was not only awarded the George Cross by Her Majesty the Queen, but the title deeds of the new force continued to incorporate the RUC GC name. I have the same respect and admiration for the current serving PSNI officers as I had for their RUC forebears. Unfortunately, this respect does not extend to its upper echelons. Whereas we once had top men with gravitas such as Sir Graham Shillington and Sir Ronnie Flanagan, we now have a spineless, box-ticking bureaucrat in the shape of Simon Byrne. And when you have someone so gutless in charge of the police in a place like Northern Ireland you’re basically saying to the terrorists, the thugs and the hoodlums: ‘This is your domain. Do what you want in it’.
Over the last month, Byrne has presided over three catastrophic incidents that would have seen any other comparable police bigwig in this United Kingdom tendering his or her resignation. The first was the publication of officers’ details on the Internet for a period of time, during which sensitive information on their addresses and station details almost certainly fell into the hands of republican terrorists (I won’t use the word ‘dissident’ because, as far as I’m concerned, the Provisional IRA and its successors are just two hairs springing from the same wart). The second came with the theft of further sensitive information from a car belonging to a Superintendent in Newtownabbey at the beginning of July (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/aug/12/psni-data-breach-200-officers-and-staff-not-informed-about-theft-for-month) and the consequential announcement that serving officers were not notified of such an appalling breach of security for nearly a month.
Then, just a few days ago, came the confirmation those of us who bitterly opposed the sanitisation of Sinn Fein had been expecting. Two officers who had made arrests at a public gathering during COVID lockdown had been disciplined for fear that failing to do so would cause Sinn Fein to withdraw its support for policing (https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-66648801). Back in the nineties, I attended rallies for the ‘Heart for the Union’ campaign against the Belfast Agreement because I fervently believed that any unfolding political process dressed up as ‘peace’ would be the catalyst by which Sinn Fein, whilst continuing its close links to a still partially-armed, if dormant Provisional IRA, would gain electoral respectability and political strength. I did not, and do not, see any justice in, or take any pleasure from, the predictions that we made during that famous ‘No’ campaign coming true.
Whether it be placating the republican separatists in Northern Ireland, or the more activist race-baiters amongst ethnic minorities in Great Britain over issues such as child grooming, there is now an ingrained rot in many of this country’s police forces whereby the equal application of the forces of law is supplanted by political considerations for the avoidance of community sectional backlash – and almost always made by politicians or those in the highest policing ranks. You cannot have the law enforcers in a given state cowering before those who, in many instances, are the sworn enemies of that state. From such lunacy comes chaos and a breakdown of the fundamental ingredient of respect so crucial in a society where we have policing by broad public consent.
It appears to me Byrne’s actions speak of someone who has greater stock in the amelioration of relations with Irish republican pseudo-democrats than he has with the safety and security of his own rank and file officers! To add insult to injury, his arrogance has led him refusing to apologise for his mistake and even threaten to appeal the judgement of Belfast’s High Court. Any other Chief Constable would have been compelled to resign long ago. Remember when the Mayor of Greater Manchester ordered the CC of GMP, Ian Hopkins, to quit after a damning HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services report into the failings of Greater Manchester Police? All of the incidents mentioned above are of equal gravity to those identified in that report, with the added insult of placing serving officers in possible fatal danger! But Byrne isn’t a normal CC. He’s another puppet in a political process designed to keep Sinn Fein happy at the expense of anyone and everyone else. If identifying such atrocious double standards resurrects accusations I faced 25 years ago of being ‘anti-peace’, they’re accusations I’m proud to own. For Northern Ireland doesn’t have a proper peace process…..and never did. If it had, the resulting political, communal and social issues we see all these years later would never have stood the passage of time.