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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 09:37 GMT
'No regrets as a Catholic in the RUC'
With the renamed Police Service of Northern Ireland addressing its imbalance of Protestant officers, Chief Superintendent Brian McCargo reflects on his three decades as a Catholic in the RUC.

I have absolutely, positively no regrets about joining the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

I always grew up wanting to be a police officer. I didn't want to be a police officer in England or in the Republic of Ireland - I wanted to be a police officer in my own country and in my own community.

An RUC officer in 1973
"Nationalist politicians encouraged people like me to join."
I came from Ardoyne, a very strong nationalist area - what many would now refer to as a republican area. It's the very place where the dispute is going on over the Holy Cross Girls' School.

My family was fairly nationalistic in outlook. So unlike Protestant lads, I never grew up in an environment where I was encouraged to realise my ambition.

But in 1969, following the disbandment of the so-called B Specials [a police auxiliary distrusted by the Catholic community] Catholic clergy and nationalist politicians were trying to encourage people like me to join the RUC.

Banned from football

I was one of the first two officers to enter the RUC reserve as a part-time officer. Not only was I reared in a nationalist area, but I was heavily involved in the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association). I played Gaelic football for Ardoyne and for my county, Antrim. I was a well known sportsman.

As a result of going into the reserve I was told to leave the GAA [under the controversial Rule 21 which excludes police and military personnel].

One of the casualties of Bloody Sunday
"The day I started my training was Bloody Sunday."

I was also discouraged from living in the area by the paramilitaries. Had I persisted in living there, the chances are I'd have been shot dead. That's how difficult it was.

In 1972, I went into the regular force. The day I started my training was Bloody Sunday - the day many nationalist people were killed in Derry City.

No second thoughts

You can imagine the emotions that accompanied me when I went in, but never did I think: 'Why did I join the RUC?'

I've been lucky. The RUC as an organisation and the colleagues I've worked with have always been very supportive.

If I had to think of one thing that troubled me, it's that there was always a tremendous threat against my family.

An RUC officer hit by a petrol bomb
"The risks faced by Catholic officers were always that much greater."
My wife and I have raised our family as practising Catholics. We had to ensure our children attended church and went to Catholic schools and that was difficult, very difficult.

When my eldest daughter went to grammar school on the Falls Road [a predominantly nationalist area], I was virtually precluded from going there such was the threat to me and her.

Recently a Protestant colleague said: 'With all the risks the rest of us had to face, no recognition has been given to the fact that the risks faced by Catholic officers and their families were always that much greater.'

Prime target

It's true that if you get points for killing a police officer, you get double points for killing a Catholic police officer.

Nor did Protestant officers have to make the hard decisions we made when we joined the force. It came naturally to them. When I entered the RUC I had to make up my mind to make a career of it and do my absolute best.

An RUC officer going to work
"The RUC has changed its name. We regret it and have shed tears."
I was awarded the top recruit award in 1972 and now I'm deputy assistant chief constable for the greater Belfast region. I worked very hard and you'll find that with so many Catholic officers.

A disproportionate number of Catholic officers occupy top jobs in the service - which goes to show the quality of those who came forward.

We may have only been 9% or 10% of the RUC, but forget the percentages, that's 1,400 officers - that's bigger than the entire strength of some other forces.

The RUC has changed its name, which 99.9% of officers didn't want to see happen. We regret it and have shed tears. We are proud members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, but we will see the changes through since it is the will of the people.

Happy Ardoyne memories

I've never forgotten my Ardoyne roots and I'd like to see the day when I can put something back into the area I hailed from and from where I have many happy memories.

RUC officer in Ardoyne
"I've never forgotten my Ardoyne roots."
Already more people are coming to talk to me and I'm going to talk to them. I look forward to going back to the area again.

I respect people for what they are, irrespective of where they come from, and expect them to take me for what I am.

I'm Brian McCargo. I'm a good, honest, professional police officer.

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31 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
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