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Royal Ulster Constabulary

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

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

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

Table of contents
1 History
2 Policing in a divided society
3 The Troubles
4 The Stephens Inquiry into alleged police collusion with loyalist killers
5 See also


The RUC officially came into existence on June 1, 1922. The forces new headquarters was established at the Atlantic Buildings, in Belfast, and Charles Wickham was the first Inspector General. The force was largely identical to the RIC - with the duty of law enforcement and counter-terrorism. Like the RIC, in contrast to Great Britain, all members of the new force were allowed to carry arms.

The new RUC was then immediately involved in the sectarian rioting and assassinations in Belfast and Londonderry. However as the 1920s progressed violence soon fell sharply away and was only briefly revived by the economic downturn of the 1930s, although the Irish Republican Army kept its hand in with sporadic bombing campaigns in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. During World War II the main concern of the RUC was smuggling from Éire (called before 1937 the Irish Free State and from 1949 the Republic of Ireland) and the enforcement of wartime regulations. In April 1943 women were allowed to join the force.

Policing in a divided society

Policing a divided society such as in Northern Ireland proved difficult, as each community (nationalist and unionist) used different symbols and had different attitudes towards the institutions of the state. To Northern unionists, the state had full legitimacy, as did its institutions, its parliament, the Crown amd as its police force. Northern nationalists however viewed the Northern Irish state as sectarian, anti-catholic, anti-nationalist and an invalid creation that had partitioned the island of Ireland against their will to create a pro-union electoral majority. As policing is by definition upholding law and order of the existing institutional structures, it is not surprising that that the RUC became closely identified with the state, through its largely protestant and unionist membership, its use of the word 'Royal' in the title and its use of flags and emblems of the northern state and the United Kingdom, in which Northern Ireland was a region. Nevertheless, the RUC did initially attract some Roman Catholic members. However IRA attacks on Catholics who joined the RUC, and the perception that the police force was "a protestant force for a protestant people" meant that Catholic participation in the Royal Ulster Constabulary always remained disproproportionally small in terms of the Catholic percentage of the overall Northern Irish population.

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

The Troubles

The rise of civil rights protests at the end of the decade marked the beginning of The Troubles. The RUC found itself being perceived as being pro-unionist when it found itself confronting marchers protesting at the gerrymandering of local governmental electoral wards. The existence of its own paramilitary wing, the B Specials, proved highly controversial, with the latter unit seen as much more anti-catholic and anti-nationalist than the RUC, which unlike the B Specials still attracted Catholic recruits. The pressure on the RUC, and in particular the discrediting of the B Specials, led to the British Army being called in in August 1969, to support the civil administration. Initially the army was welcomed by catholic nationalists in preference to the RUC and in particular the B Specials. However heavy handed army behaviour, most notably on Bloody Sunday (when thirteen people were shot dead in the aftermath of a civil rights march) soon saw the minority catholic population turn against the Army. The high level of civil disturbance led to a review of the RUC, headed by Lord Hunt. Most of the recommendations of the report were accepted - the force was reorganized to bringing it into line with other UK police forces with 12 Divisions and 39 Sub-Divisions, with British rank and promotion structure and the creation of a Police Authority. All military-style duties were handed over to the new Ulster Defence Regiment, which replaced the B Specials, and which in turn would be replaced, amid allegations that it too was sectarian, by the Royal Irish Regiment.

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

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

The Stephens Inquiry into alleged police collusion with loyalist killers

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

I . . . believe the RUC investigation of Pat Finucane's murder should have resulted in the early arrest and detection of his killers. I conclude there was collusion in both murders and in the events surrounding them. . . My inquiries have highlighted collusion, the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence and the extreme of agents of agents being involved in murder.

These serious acts and omissions have meant that people have been killed or seriously injured. Informants and agents were allowed to operate without effective control and to participate in terrorist crimes.

Nationalists were known to be targeted but they were not properly warned of protected. Important evidence was neither exploited nor preserved.

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

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

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

Stephens also alleged attempts by elements in the army and police force had during his twelve year inquiry to sabotage his work. Nationalists continue to demand a full public sworn inquiry into the events surrounding the Finucane murder, and in particular to examine what role if any elements of the RUC Special Branch and units of the British Army had in enabling loyalist paramilitaries to murder catholics and nationalists. David Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, called for a parliamentary inquiry into the collusion, while nationalists demanded a full public inquiry. (It was notable how, in the aftermath of Stevens' report, everyone from the media to British politicians, the unionist UUP and the nationalist SLDP and Sinn Féin, all dropped the previous reference to alleged collusion and referred simply to collusion which in the aftermath of Stevens' shock report was accepted by all as a fact.)

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

See also

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

External link