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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW:
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN
APRIL 7th, 2002
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: Now the new police service of Northern Ireland, it held its first passing out parade on Friday, the new politically neutral uniforms and badges which have replaced those of the old RUC were worn for the first time, it's all part of the programme for reform, to encourage equal numbers of Catholics and Protestants into the force. The other recent change of course is the departure of the Police Service's Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan whose time in the job came to an end just about a week ago and Sir Ronnie joins me now from Belfast, good morning.
RONNIE FLANAGAN: Good morning.
DAVID FROST: We had a story overnight here that, Ronnie, just before getting into everything else, that nearly 200 Special Branch officers, the level of terrorist threat against them is being upgraded because of the robbery at the Castlereagh Police Complex on St Patrick's Day, because of the books and names and telephone numbers that were, that, that's bad news isn't it?
RONNIE FLANAGAN: Well it is bad news but we've given our officers advice as to how they should enhance their personal security and these are all officers who realise the risks that they took on with the job and they're very sensible officers so there will certainly be no sense of panic but it's not good news, that's correct.
DAVID FROST: And in terms of the actual raid, everybody says to get in there, into that complex and so on, that it must have been at least in part an inside job, do you share that view?
RONNIE FLANAGAN: Well the investigation and of course it's not right for me to comment now that I'm out of office, in much detail, but the investigation has indicated that there indeed were some people employed by us who probably gave assistance to those who carried out the raid and the theft and the aggravated burglary.
DAVID FROST: That, that is true. Also before you left, left the post you said that you thought another round of IRA decommissioning was, was close, was likely was the word I think you used, are you surprised it hasn't happened yet?
RONNIE FLANAGAN: Well I still expect that that will happen, I still expect that that will be a further step along a progressive road to, to permanent peace, I think that's imminent, at least that was the case up to last Sunday when I left office.
DAVID FROST: Right when you left, and as you left office was it with great regret or was it with a sigh of relief that you were changing your, your job, was it with disappointment about what had happened or joy about the change?
RONNIE FLANAGAN: No not disappointment, the sense of poignancy at leaving people for whom I have the highest regard but moving on to new things still within the sphere of policing Ireland, I'm very excited and look forward to that very much and I left with the sense of overwhelming pride, I left with the sense of great confidence that policing is in the hands of utterly professional colleagues for whom I have the highest regard and admiration.
DAVID FROST: And what about this investigation that's coming up on Omagh, how do you look back on Omagh, would you have done something differently there?
RONNIE FLANAGAN: Well Omagh is a massive investigation and of course in any investigation mistakes will be made and we have always said that there are things that could have been done better but none of these things in any way have led to a diminution of the chances of bringing to justice those who carried out this terrible atrocity and that investigation goes on apace, it's a very live, a very vigorous investigation on both sides of the border and while not wanting to raise false hopes it is an investigation that is not by any means without hope bringing those to justice that carried out this terrible atrocity.
DAVID FROST: Right the famous phone warning on August the 4th and so on, that was passed to Special Branch but apparently no further, that was a mistake was it?
RONNIE FLANAGAN: No it certainly was not a mistake and I'm glad the police board were absolutely definitive in their assertion when they had examined all of the facts that nothing was in our possession that could have prevented the Omagh atrocity and I think it's very important that the police board not only came to that conclusion but stated very firmly and publicly that that was their conclusion because it was always and always will be our firm conclusion.
DAVID FROST: And you said in your, that very stern, very emotive speech of yours about, if indeed the ombudsman judgement was correct I would not only resign I would go and publicly commit suicide, was that a bit over the top, would you, would you use those words again?
RONNIE FLANAGAN: No I certainly would not, I said almost immediately there afterwards it was a crass remark and it was insensitive and families who have been affected by suicide I'm sure were possibly hurt by such a crass remark. Nothing is more precious than the sanctity of life and I bitterly regret having said that but it was indicative of how strongly I felt at that time.
DAVID FROST: And are you going to take legal action against the ombudsman report or not?
RONNIE FLANAGAN: No certainly I'm not taking any legal action, there is a judicial review underway being sought by the Police Association and I think if this is going to be considered in court then let it be considered. I have the highest regard for the ombudsman and while there are big issues about the Omagh investigation I've always said we can ring fence those issues and I have no doubt that my previous organisation and the ombudsman's office will continue with the most professional of relationships.
DAVID FROST: How do you think the transfer of the police service is going, I mean there have been some remarkable steps forward and yet the same thing happens, North Belfast riots, people complain the police wereż
RONNIE FLANAGAN: I think the transformation
DAVID FROST: That's just like old times but, but in general the transition, how do you rate it now?
RONNIE FLANAGAN: I think so far as the police service is concerned the transition is going remarkably well and we're making fantastic progress but I think people have to remember that Patten was all about policing and policing is about more than the police, policing is about partnerships between the police and all those communities police exist to serve so communities and all those communities whatever their background, whatever their tradition have to grab their responsibilities, they have to move in transition as well. So far as the police service is concerned I think there has been and will continue to be remarkable progress. I think all people with influence in the communities have to exercise that influence for the good and have to seize their responsibilities as well and that's when we'll truly make progress because the issues in North Belfast are not issues that the police alone can solve.
DAVID FROST: Right and as you go on to your new challenge as one of Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary do you think there will ever dawn a day when you return to Northern Ireland to be greeted by unarmed bobbies to use an English phrase, will that day ever dawn?
RONNIE FLANAGAN: I would dearly love to see that day, I don't think we're quite there yet, I think it will be quite some time but my officers never wanted to carry arms when they were my officers and I'm certain the officers of the Police Service of Northern Ireland would dearly love that the day would dawn when they don't have to carry arms either for their own protection, or for the protection of the public. But it's not a day we have reached yet or are imminently approaching, sadly.
DAVID FROST: Well thank you for this review of the situation, we really appreciate it.
RONNIE FLANAGAN: David can I just take a few seconds, I know what you're moving on to cover in the programme and can I say on behalf of all members, past and present, of my former organisation how deeply we personally feel the loss of Her Majesty the Queen Mother. She hosted my Widow's Association, my Disabled Police Officer's Association on a number of occasions, spent hours with them individually, was photographed individually and those photographs will be cherished in their families for years and generations to come and I know particularly the Widow's Association and the Disabled Police Officer's Association would like to place on record their undying affection and admiration and celebration of a wonderful life of a uniquely wonderful person.
DAVID FROST: Thank you very much for that added word, thank you very much.
RONNIE FLANAGAN: Thank you very much indeed.
DAVID FROST: Sir Ronnie Flanagan there.
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