BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  UK: Northern Ireland
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Saturday, 30 March, 2002, 15:37 GMT
Controversy dogs Flanagan's last days
Ronnie Flanagan is about to step down from his role
Ronnie Flanagan is about to step down from his role
test hello test
By Brian Rowan
BBC Northern Ireland chief security correspondent

It was the grand setting of the Throne Room at Hillsborough Castle, County Down.

The most senior figures in security in the province gathered to hear the Northern Ireland Secretary pay tribute to the outgoing Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan.

The peace may be flawed but progress is being made and Sir Ronnie is identified as a supporter of the process

They were all there. The Army GOC, lieutenant general Alistair Irwin, Northern Ireland's Security Minister Jane Kennedy, Colin Cramphorn, soon to become acting chief constable and the chairman of the Policing Board, Desmond Rea.

Also there were the Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan, various high-ranking special branch officers and the tall chap in the grey suit - MI5's main man in Northern Ireland.

Dr John Reid, the host for the evening, had a lot to thank Ronnie Flanagan for.

His leadership had ensured a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland - one of the objectives of the Good Friday Agreement.

Few believed that anyone other than Flanagan could have coaxed and nursed the RUC through such a painful period of change - both symbolic and structural.

Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan was scathing of the police handling of Omagh
Nuala O'Loan: Criticised Omagh bomb inquiry

Its name has gone, its badge and flag have changed and the transition will be completed on 5 April when the new uniform for the Police Service of Northern Ireland is introduced.

Flanagan, an RUC man for more than 30 years, felt the pain but pushed through the reforms.

On other issues such as demilitarisation and decommissioning he could have been awkward, but chose not to be.

He recognised the imperfect nature of Northern Ireland's peace.

But having been so close to so many people who lost their lives during 30 years of violence, he can see how much better things are now.

The peace may be flawed but progress is being made and Sir Ronnie is identified as a supporter of the process.

That is not to say that he has not caused problems for those whose job it has been to manage things since the first ceasefires back in 1994.

During the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement, he linked both the UDA and the IRA to a number of killings.

Their political representatives in the loyalist Ulster Democratic Party and in Sinn Fein were given their marching orders out of the talks.

Colin Cramphorn
Colin Cramphorn to become acting chief constable

Back in the Throne Room at Hillsborough Castle on Monday 25 March, as Dr Reid praised Flanagan's contribution to policing, he reminded his audience that it was the chief constable's birthday.

But, in recent times, Sir Ronnie has had little to celebrate.

These have been months dominated by controversy and crisis.

Months in which he has had to deal with the scathing criticisms of the Omagh bomb investigation and the embarrassment of a breach of security at a key Special Branch office at the Belfast police headquarters.

The latter has all the appearance of an inside job, and Sir Ronnie's Hillsborough host has asked Sir John Chilcott to assess the extent of any damage to national security.

These have been negative notes to end on and there is a general view that Flanagan's contribution to policing merited something better.


For the past decade or so he has been the public face of policingin the province, its most articulate voice and someone who always looked comfortable in front of the camera.

But these recent weeks have been anything but comfortable, indeed they have probably been the most uncomfortable in Flanagan's 30 years in policing.

His career move takes him from policing top dog here to watchdog elsewhere - to the post of Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary.

Such is the nature of Northern Ireland, there will be those who will be glad to see the back of him.

But despite the recent controversies, many will acknowledge that he will be a hard act to follow.

See also:

22 Feb 02 | Northern Ireland
Board 'not out to get' police chief
19 Feb 02 | Northern Ireland
Police chief set for new role
07 Feb 02 | Northern Ireland
Board intervenes in Omagh inquiry
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Northern Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Northern Ireland stories