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The BBC's David Eades
"For some bereaved relatives the George Cross is just a hypocritical gesture"
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Sir Ronnie Flanagan
"This award is so momentous"
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Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Queen salutes RUC courage
Queen presents award
The award was presented to disabled constable Paul Slaine
The Royal Ulster Constabulary has been awarded the George Cross in tribute to the sacrifice and service of its members.

The medal was presented by the Queen at a ceremony in Northern Ireland to recognise the force's bravery during more than 30 years of paramilitary violence in the province.

RUC Reform
RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan said it was a momentous day for the force which felt a "deep sense of pride and honour".

The ceremony at Hillsborough Castle in County Down, was attended by past and present RUC members.

Three officers received the medal on behalf of the force.

They were: Assistant Chief Constable Bill Stewart, representing those with long service, Constable Susan Wright, one of the force's newest recruits, and Constable Paul Slaine, who lost both legs in an IRA bomb attack.

The Queen said the award was an "exceptional recognition of the outstanding contribution made by the RUC to peace in Northern Ireland".

"It is a singular acknowledgement of the gallantry and courage shown, and in all too many cases, the ultimate sacrifice paid by members Constabulary during the past 30 years of terrorism and civil unrest," she said.

Ronnie Flanagan: "Great honour"

Sir Ronnie said it was a "humbling experience" to see the RUC being honoured for its bravery and dedication in the same way as the people of Malta were applauded during the Second World War by receiving the George Cross.

He also paid tribute to the "selfless dedication and courage" of the force's military colleagues and those RUC members who had died during the Troubles.

Sir Ronnie said the force was looking to a "new and exciting future".

"This most gracious honour, therefore, is not only recognition of outstanding past achievements, but also the most tremendous incentive to us all, now and in the years to come."

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson and the Lord Lieutenant of County Down, William J Hall, were among the guests who welcomed the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to the province.

Also at the ceremony were the Catholic Primate Archbishop Sean Brady, the Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne and RUC widows.

The RUC band played the National Anthem before the cross was presented.

The RUC is already the most decorated police force in the British Isles but the George Cross will cap it all.

However, the decision to include it among the recipients caused some controversy.

The British Government is preparing to implement policing reform proposals set out by former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, which will change the name, symbols and structure of the force.

The Queen talks to the widow of Frankie O'Reilly, the last RUC officer killed in the Troubles
Unionist politicians, members of the RUC and the relatives of officers killed during the Troubles are angry at the proposal to change the name to the Police Service of Northern Ireland in a bid to encourage more Catholics and nationalists to join.

Some unionist politicians have expressed concern that the award of the George Cross was an attempt to damp down anger about the proposed changes.

Republicans have also condemned the award of the medal, describing it as "offensive" to members of their community who they say are not represented in the force.

Sinn Fein staged a protest in Londonderry against the ceremony as it was taking place and a victims' group, Relatives for Justice, held a black flag vigil at Belfast City Hall to protest at the award.

Security was tight around the village of Hillsborough in the run-up to the Queen and Prince Philip's arrival. It was her first visit to Northern Ireland since l997.

A security alert, prompted by warning of a suspicious object near Hillsborough Castle, was later declared a hoax.

The Royal couple are due to attend a reception for representatives of Northern Ireland's rural community at the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society in the Balmoral area of Belfast later on Wednesday.

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See also:

12 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
RUC: Sectarian or brave?
11 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
'Hundreds to leave RUC'
19 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
RUC renamed in sweeping changes
19 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
'Great hurt at RUC change'
19 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
RUC changes at a glance
23 Nov 99 | Northern Ireland
RUC awarded George Cross
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