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Tuesday, 25 January, 2000, 12:29 GMT
RUC reform: Are the police plans fair?

The Royal Ulster Constabulary is set to be replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland in sweeping reforms announced by the UK Government.

Unionists are appalled at the loss of the "Royal" tag and the way the force has been treated, while Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson hailS the changes as a "new beginning".

Recruitment will be split 50-50 between Protestants and Catholics in a force reduced significantly to 7,500 full-time officers.

But will it work? Has the government struck the right balance? Is this fair treatment for the RUC? Could the moves jeopardise the peace process?

Your Reaction

Accountability is the key. No amount of cosmetic changes will alter the current perception of the nationalist population. For far too long the RUC has symbolised extreme sectarianism. The ownership of the force MUST be given to both communities. Make them accountable and the rest will follow.
Maire Kelly, USA

Even if the full Patten report were implemented it would not be a real defeat for Her Majesty's RUC. It would only be a well-disguised strategic retreat.
Nick Kelly, USA

It took us a long time in this country to get away from any and all things "royal" but we won through in 1944. Royalty and royal institutions have no place in a democracy. Perhaps even the British will realise this one-day.
Sigmar Thormar, Iceland

I think it is perfectly fair that the force should be divided 50/50 between the two communities
Alister Bredee, Ireland

To the RUC, a job well done! Your mission however is over. Changing times and a new century demand a new police force. No doubt the new police service will continue the traditions of bravery and community service.
Dan Nixon, USA

Hopefully these changes are the first step towards total disbandment and the installation of a totally civilian police force representing the NI community.
Dan Callahan, USA

The question regarding police reformation, in the current colonial relationship, is irrelevant. For as long as there is a colonised entity, the colonial police cannot do anything except keep that entity subdued.
Séamus óBraonáin, Eire/USA

The UK government should not keep bowing to the pressure exerted by the Republican movements. It is about time that they recognised the loyalty of the majority living in the North. Current members of the government would be at home with those politicians that preached appeasement prior to the last WW. Will the next move be to take away the Royal from the RAF & RN
Louis, Oman

I believe the RUC requires a massive reorganisation. Much as the police in the US needed reorganisation and reform after the civil rights movement started in the 1960s. The RUC can stand a change, it was never a proper name for all the obvious reasons. It is oppressive in nature, as are many similar police forces, and had a difficult task policing what resembled a civil war. We know civil wars are the most brutal but they (RUC) seem to have led the way in brutality.
Bill Maher, USA

I don't think the reforms go far enough. There is no vetting process to weed out the worst of the human rights offenders in the RUC, leaving open the possibility of continued human rights abuses from a new force with the same old bad apples. Also, the British government language on police reform and demilitarisation are very vague, and open ended. This will discourage nationalist participation.
Jim Loughman, USA

I feel that the name change from RUC to Northern Ireland Police Force is an appropriate and necessary action. I do however sympathise with those members of the RUC who feel this is an insult. They must realise that if a large part of the community considers themselves disenfranchised by the present name and make-up of the force there must be a reason. No matter how honourable the constabulary considers itself, a force made-up almost exclusively of one part of a community will look at the other with suspicion.
Patty, USA

I believe that to be effective, any police force must have support from all sections of the community it serves. I believe the Patton reforms will help Northern Ireland to have a police force that all its citizens can be proud of. If the change of the name of the RUC will convince law-abiding nationalists to join the force then this is a price worth paying.
Andrew, U.K.

Is there another force in the UK tagged with the "Royal" prefix? I don't think so. It is clearly a provocative title and it is time for it to go. Besides, the people's perception of the RUC has to be totally changed, and the name change is the most clear outward sign of this. Let's hope that the other perceptions, whether rooted in fact or not, can now be turned around.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

Once again the Labour Government shows itself to be totally spineless. They have chosen to take the easy way out, and attack the soft targets.
John Atkins, Brit in Singapore
Reading the accusations of sectarianism that have been heaped upon the RUC, I am reminded of the fact that the members of that force have suffered at the hands of the loyalist mobs as they faithfully protected the Catholics of the Garvaghy Road in Portadown.
John Calwell, USA

I have lived in West Belfast most of my life. The roles I have witnessed of the RUC in my community have been harassment of locals, ignoring ordinary criminal activity, recruitment drives for informers. Nationalists have never viewed them as a police force, more a British paramilitary/security force. If a community like West Belfast is to get a proper police service then Unionists need to face the reality that the Nationalists will never accept the RUC in its current form. And is another unnecessary obstacle to the return of normality to places like West Belfast.
Michael Brennan, North of Ireland

As an ex RUC member, and a Catholic, I welcome the changes, and believe they are the way forward for the RUC, and NI. The country is evolving and the institutions must evolve with it. The name change does not denigrate the history of the RUC. But we cannot remain rooted to history. I was proud to serve in the RUC and I have no doubt that there are many more Catholics who would be happy and proud to serve in the new NI Police Service.
Kieran Smart, USA

It's so obvious. The reason why the unionist population of the six counties are so angered by these reforms is simply because the RUC were a Protestant force for the Protestant people.
Mr Cunningham, Ireland
This is certainly a question which has provoked some interesting arguments from both mainland Ireland and the rest of the UK. Whilst the people of NI can comment that unless you have actually lived under the influence of the RUC, you cannot have an informed comment, I can also say (as an English person living in England) that almost none of the comments that I have read from the NI citizens , are those of people who wish to accept change for what it should be. A lot of hurt has been caused by both sides to each other in the past, and (undoubtedly) bitterness for past deeds is likely to run for many years to come. The only issue to consider is that in order for things to change for the better, the tools used in the past in the conflict must also be changed. Neither side seems willing to accept responsibility for there own actions, or even admit to the fact that evils were committed by there own people. Both side seems to have accepted that two wrongs do make a right, and as long as this attitude continues, there will be no co-operation and hence no peace.
Allaster, UK

The simple fact is that the RUC has to change. With a force which is over 90% Protestant, the only way forward for the Police service in Northern Ireland, was obviously to change their recruiting program, as well as to drop the name of the RUC. The new changes will help the peace process not hinder them, as a force which is split 50/50 between Protestant and Catholic can only help put faith back into law and order. The case of Rosemary Nelson only highlights the fundamental problems the RUC have. I can understand why the Unionists are not happy with these changes, but the people of Northern Ireland deserve a police force which both communities feel they can trust.
G Dunne,

I can't begin to see how people can object to the police service in Northern Ireland being called the Police Service of Northern Ireland. A name change does nothing to undermine the good work that the RUC has done over the years: it is merely a diplomatic move given that the RUC has historically been poorly trusted by part of the community in Northern Ireland - and no police service can operate efficiently if it is not trusted by the whole of its community.
Tom, England

Why do we repay the people who have protected Ulster for the last 78 years with a massive kick in the teeth, whilst the people who have tried to destroy Ulster are pandered to on a daily basis!
Gary Shaw, UK

There has been understandable concern from many of the "Talking Point" correspondents. Might I commend, however, a full reading of the Patten Report to those who question the motives of the government and the wisdom of the reforms.
Cionnach Mac Giolla Chathain, USA

No other UK Police force uses the title Royal (other than those specific to the Royal Family).The use of it in Ulster was always inflammatory.
Gerry, Scotland
The RUC developed naturally as it responded to the IRA and other terrorists. As the IRA killed officers and civilians it developed. If the IRA have no weapons the police should respond accordingly. Unfortunately the IRA seem to think everybody should appease them and then they decide if they should resume terrorism. Surely this is paramount to blackmail and the world seems to expect the Unionists to continually summit, as the government have. To date it has been an extremely one sided process. Let the IRA move and I would be happy with a new police force for a new Northern Ireland. Unfortunately Sinn Fein and others seem to think that everything should be new but we should keep the old IRA. Are the IRA going to introduce 50-50 employment as well? How can the communities move together when the IRA continually play God and look down on what we are doing and then decide. If the IRA are no threat Unionists will be happy to move together with Nationalists.
Paul, Northern Ireland

his can only be a step in the right direction. After countless beatings and harassment from the old regime, anything would be better. Maybe now we'll see more disciplined policing and protection of the Garvaghy Road residents.
Peter McBride, North of Ireland

I was born during the Troubles and have never seen Northern Ireland at peace. The changes in the Patton report will go along way to demilitarising Ireland once and for all. In the same way that the police force in London has been dubbed institutionally racist by its commanding officer, it is an unfortunate fact that the RUC is institutionally sectarian. It does not have the respect nor does it have the trust of a significant minority of the North's population. The force's misconduct is sadly well documented: the mistreatment of suspects in Castlereagh; the obstruction of the Stalker inquiry; the treatment of Rosemary Nelson. Only root and branch reform will restore its tarnished image. Like its predecessor, the B-Specials, it is time to consign the RUC to history.
Niall O'Donnell, USA

Why on earth should we the British taxpayer pay for what will be a republican police force? Of course the RUC is biased towards unionism, as the very reason for it's being a militarised police force, rather than a civilian police service. If it is to be a republican police force, then let the republicans pay for it.
Alex Stanway, England

Instead of defending the serving officers, and honouring their murdered colleagues, the government has decided to dishonour all those, protestant and catholic, who wore the RUC uniform and stood between terror and the NI community. This is a black day for the United Kingdom as a whole, but it is in Northern Ireland where the hurt of this surrender will be deepest felt. Shame on Tony Blair and shame on those who allowed this to happen.
Peter King, Northern Ireland, UK

I believe its time for change. A true police force for Northern Ireland. Over are the days of suppression and brutal domination by a force with hidden self-agendas by the masons and orange order and others. The new force should truly represent all the peoples of the North.
John McIntyre, Canada

As a young Christian in Northern Ireland, I have come to realise that there is a lot of room for change in our country. However, the RUC has done a lot of good for country, and I am glad to see that the fundamentals of the service have not been changed. After all a name is only a name, it is what is at the heart of the service that matters. We can not dismiss the great things that the RUC has done, and we should not do this. Instead, these things should be treasured, and it is these that the reformed police service should be built on. It will be preserving the important things from the past, while compromising with those who were not happy with the way things were.
Stephanie McNaul, Northern Ireland

I think the Royal Ulster Constabulary are a police force of the utmost integrity and honour. The British government are slowly but surely handing the ruling and running of Northern Ireland over into the hands of republican bigots. It is an utter disgrace!
Janey, United Kingdom

Peter Mandelson would do better to support the majority view of British people in Britain rather than bow and scrape to terrorists who will be further encouraged by yet another concession from the British Government.
Grant McPherson, Britain

The most serious aspect of the proposed RUC reforms is that the Blair government have completely failed to listen to the point of view of the unionist side of the community in Northern Ireland, or to the police officers themselves. Any possible balance has been sacrificed to the government's desire to appease Sinn Fein/IRA terrorists.
Cruithni, UK

I am sick and tired of our government giving in to terrorism. First they let prisoners home for Christmas, then they consider letting Sinn Fein into Westminster without swearing the oath, and now they want to reform the RUC with a 50-50 split between Catholics and Protestants. People should always be recruited by their merits not by their religion. When will the government realise that political correctness does not work, and appeasing the IRA will send the wrong message to other terrorist organisations around the world.
Richard, Wales

The changes to the RUC are grossly unfair. Along with other colleagues, I risked my life protecting the general public against fanatical terrorists from both sides of the sectarian divide. I never expected thanks, but I didn't expect betrayal, either. Oh, and for those Irish-Americans who see the RUC as "ethnic militia" trying to oppress republicans, I'd just like to point out that my main duties consisted of monitoring the activities of loyalist paramilitaries in South Belfast. The British Government keeps making concessions to terrorists (e.g. early release from prison) but the terrorists themselves won't make any compromises. To date, not a single IRA gun or ounce of Semtex-H has been decommissioned. Meanwhile, the RUC is expected to reduce its numbers by half. Why doesn't the IRA respond by reducing its weapon stocks by half?
An ex-member of the RUC Special Branch,

As there exists a regional police force in Scotland and Wales, a force that represents the population of the North of Ireland is essential to future peace.
Tom Power, Ireland (South)

The end of the RUC would be a wonderful thing. The Irish Nationalist community have been victims of state supported terrorism for far too long. Naturally Unionists oppose it, because it takes away their power. A police unit that addresses the concerns of all the communities in Northern Ireland would be a great start.
Sean P. Porter, USA

As I Catholic on the receiving end of the RUC's treatment for most of my life, I view the end of the RUC as an essential part of the peace process in the context of demilitarisation of the conflict. If the IRA is to be encouraged to decommission then the 92% protestant paramilitary police force must be transformed into a non partisan police service.
Cormac Quigley, North of Ireland

As a Northern Irish man and ex member of the RUC, I am disgusted at the way the RUC has been treated. I see this as just another example of appeasement to republican terrorists. What have the IRA given up over the last few years, not one weapon or ounce of explosives. They have seen the wholesale release of convicted terrorists and every effort made by the British government to submit to their requests. Tony Blair should remember that appeasement does not work and history does not look favourably on those who appease. Neville Chamberlain is not remembered as one of our greatest Prime Ministers.
Chris Gilmore, England

If the RUC did it's job fairly and honourably, then there would have been no need for military intervention in the first place. Instead of a proud tradition of law enforcement, the RUC has a reputation as an ethnic militia, terrorising a minority that tried to make changes peacefully before resorting to violence. If the British government was serious about police reform, then it should dissolve the RUC, and replace it entirely.
Thomas Byrne, USA

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Name and culture change

See also:
19 Jan 00 |  Northern Ireland
RUC renamed in sweeping changes
19 Jan 00 |  Northern Ireland
RUC changes at a glance

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