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2000: Queen honours NI police
The Queen has presented the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) with the George Cross, the highest civilian award for bravery.

The Queen praised the "outstanding contribution" made by the RUC to peace in Northern Ireland.

"Due in no small measure to the bravery and dedication over the years of the men and women of the Royal Ulster Constabulary Northern Ireland is now a much more peaceful and stable in which to live," she said.

More than 302 RUC officers were killed during 30 years of paramilitary violence.

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

The George Cross was received by Constable Paul Slaine who lost both legs in an IRA mortar attack eight years ago.

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

'Offensive'

The RUC is already the most decorated police force in the British Isles but the George Cross is its highest honour.

However, the decision to award the medal has caused controversy.

Republicans have described the award as "offensive", saying members of their community have suffered at the hands of the RUC.

Many unionists and RUC officers feel the medal is a way of dampening down anger about proposed changes to the service.

Its future has caused controversy ever since the Good Friday peace deal two years ago when nationalist politicians said policing reform was a key part of the peace process.

However, unionists rejected a subsequent report, chaired by former Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten.

It recommended 175 changes including a new name and badge designed to attract more Catholics to the Protestant-dominated force.

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Queen Elizabeth and Constable Paul Slaine
Constable Paul Slaine received the award on behalf of the RUC


In Context
The Royal Ulster Constabulary was founded in 1922 after the completion of the partition of Ireland.

It was considered to be a pro-unionist force and few Catholics joined.

Over the years various allegations were levelled against the RUC including claims it operated a 'shoot-to-kill' policy and colluded with loyalist paramilitaries.

The Patten report was the second attempt to reform the service following the Hunt report in 1969.

In spite of unionist outrage, the government pressed ahead with a modified version of the Patten report's recommendations.

In November 2001 the RUC became the Police Service of Northern Ireland and a new 50-50 recruitment programme was adopted to bring in more Catholics.

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