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RUC Reform Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 10:16 GMT
The RUC: Lauded and condemned
The George Cross: Awarded to the RUC in 2000
The George Cross: Awarded to the RUC in 2000
Condemned by republicans, nationalists and human rights groups for embodying sectarianism and lauded by security forces as one of the most professional police operations in the world, the Royal Ulster Constabulary is one of the most controversial police forces in the UK.

That division over the force was brought into sharp focus when in the Spring of 2000, The Queen awarded the RUC the George Cross, the highest civilian medal - and the same medal presented to Malta after it survived seige at the hands of the Nazis during the Second World War.

The recommendations by Chris Patten, most of which have been accepted by the government, to reform the force are unlikely to stem the debate.

The Patten report, issued 9 September, 1999, recommended 175 changes to the RUC including a new name, the Northern Ireland Police Force - later changed to the Police Service of Northern Ireland - a new badge, and a new police board which will include members of all parties entitled to seats in the Assembly Executive, including Sinn Fein.

Publishing his report Mr Patten said that its key objective was to "depoliticise" policing.

"Policing in Northern Ireland has suffered, often with disastrous consequences, from being a political issue, and from being associated with the dispute about the state itself," he said.

The report is just the latest chapter in a long history of controversy. The RUC was formed in April 1922 when the Royal Irish Constabulary was disbanded.

The maximum strength of the new force was set at 3,000 men. There was also an auxiliary force, the Ulster Special Constabulary, known as the B Specials.

Initially provision was made for one third of the places in the RUC to be reserved for Catholics, with preference given to former RIC men. But this proportion was never achieved.

By 1969 the RUC's establishment had been increased to 3,500. Only 11% were Catholic. Following an inquiry into the riots and disturbances in Northern Ireland in 1969, the Home Secretary Jim Callaghan ordered

A commission headed by Lord Hunt to advise on the policing problem. The subsequent report, published in October 1969, recommended a complete reorganisation of the RUC.

The RUC was disarmed and a new rank structure was introduced. The B Specials, which had a membership of about 10,000 in 1969 and had been increasingly seen as a Protestant army were disbanded.

In its place, the RUC Reserve was formed as an auxiliary police force.

All military-style duties were handed over to the Ulster Defence Regiment, which was under military command. It was later disbanded as well.

But the disarming of the RUC was short lived. By late 1971, sidearms were again issued.

As the campaign against the police intensified so did the level of police armament. Vehicles and buildings were armoured against gun, bomb and missile attacks.

In the early 1970s, the force was issued with rubber bullets which were designed to bounce off the ground and strike at knee level.

But in practice they proved unpredictable and resulted in three deaths and many severe injuries.

Later, the plastic bullet was introduced as being more effective and accurate

It was fired directly at its target and in the 1981 disturbances during the H-Block hunger strike, thousands were fired by both the army and the RUC. By the end of 1982, the plastic bullet had caused 11 deaths.

Manpower was gradually increased to 8,500 for the RUC and another 5,000 for the reserve. The proportion of Catholics in the force is about 8%.

In recent years, tension between the RUC and the nationalist community has continued to mount.

The murder of prominent human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson in a car bomb in Lurgan in 1999 brought renewed allegations of RUC collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.

Ms Nelson had complained of threats by the RUC. For many, it was all too reminiscent of the murder of another lawyer, Pat Finucane who was murdered in 1989 where there were allegations of security force collusion.

That murder and the alleged collusion of security forces in its commiting remains under investigation by the commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police, John Stevens.

The RUC has also suffered heavily during The Troubles.

The force suffered its worst tragedy when in 1985, nine officers were killed in an attack on Newry station. It was the highest RUC death toll since the force was formed.

The force itself has lost 302 in the 30 years of the Troubles and 8,500 have been injured.

Read BBC News Online's full special report on policing reform in Northern Ireland

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