29 April 1999 Edition
RUC slated at Gilman hearings
Packed galleries hear accounts of harassment, injury, and death
Irish Americans representing every major Irish American organization, and individuals alike, queued last Thursday, 22 April, to show their support for the hearings called by Congressman Benjamin Gilman on the need for a new policing service in the Six Counties.
It was clear that there were people from beyond the Irish American community in attendance, showing that the true nature and role of the RUC is a matter of concern for everyone. This was also evidenced by the support shown from the Congressmen who attended.
The last two weeks have seen the political institutions in Washington raising the issues of the RUC and the Good Friday Agreement in a strong and positive way. The week beforehand, resolutions were passed calling for an independent inquiry into the deaths of Rosemary Nelson and Patrick Finucane, congratulating and urging all signatories of the Good Friday Agreement to stick to the letter of the Agreement, and stopping funds going to joint FBI/RUC training.
The overwhelming show of support for the hearings on the RUC reminded members of Congress and the British and Irish governments how important Irish issues are to America.
Ben Gilman was the first to speak, setting the tone for the rest of the day. ``Let there be no mistake, new and acceptable policing for the North of Ireland must come, sooner rather than later. It must be root and branch, not that which is politically acceptable to the ruling unionist majority.''
``Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,'' said Congressman Gregory Meeks, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he explained why he felt the hearings of the day were so important.
Diane Hamill (sister of Robert Hamill), Fr. Sean McManus, Fr. Raymond Murray, Toni Carragher (South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee), Professor John McGarry (University of Western Ontario), Maggie Bierne (Committee for the Administration for Justice), Jane Winter (British Irish Rights Watch), Hayla Gowan (Amnesty International), and Julia Hall (Human Rights Watch) all testified to the committee about the reasons why, if peace is to come to the North of Ireland, there needs to be a new policing service.
It is self evident that the RUC must be replaced by a new police service and it is necessary to start all over with this discredited police service.
- Congressman Ben Gilman
Speaking from Capitol Hill, Sinn Féin Representative Rita O'Hare said: ``These hearings and the recent UN reports on the RUC have enforced the view in America of the need for a totally new policing service. They highlight in the most effective way the true nature of the RUC.''
Congressman Chris Smith said: ``There have now been three hearings on Human Rights in the North of Ireland. There is one reourring theme, one inescapable conclusion - the RUC is at the core of human rights abuses in the North of Ireland.''
``The U.S. Congress will not rest until the RUC is investigated and overhauled,'' said Congressman Steve Rothman, while Congressmen Donald Payne and William Delahunt called for the ``complete disbandment'' of the RUC.
Paul Nelson's statement demanding a fully independent international investigation and independent international judicial inquiry into the assassination of his wife, Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson, was placed in the official record.
Dr. Robbie McVeigh, spokesperson for the Rosemary Nelson Campaign, was welcomed by Chairperson Gilman who, along with his colleagues, paid tribute to Rosemary Nelson's courage and dedication to protecting all her clients, irrespective of political or religious belief, from human rights abuses.
Representative Chris Smith, Chairperson of the House Committee on International Operation and Human Rights, noted Rosemary Nelson's testimony before the committee in September 1998, in which she spoke of the death threats and harassment she received from the RUC and of the complete impossibility of her seeking police protection in that environment.
Robbie McVeigh said: ``It was inspiring to see Rosemary's case so central to discussions on human rights in the North of Ireland. There was unanimity across Congress with both Republicans and Democrats committing themselves to supporting the campaign for justice for Rosemary Nelson. International pressure like this will ensure that the campaign demands for an independent international investigation and inquiry into the circumstances surrounding her murder are released.''
Congressman Donald Payne called Rosemary Nelson ``our hero, who stood up for freedom and for right and for justice.''
Congressman Peter King said that the hearings were not dealing with Irish issues or partisan issues, but ``human issues.''
Diane Hamill gave chilling testimony about the circumstances of her brother's death. She told the committee that as a gang of loyalists kicked her brother to death, an RUC patrol car was not 20 yards away from the scene. The RUC did nothing and did not even bother to fill out a report about the incident when they returned to the station.
Congressman King asked Diane Hamill if David Trimble (the family's elected representative) ever contacted the family regarding Robert. Hamill replied: ``No. I wrote two times. He replied to the second letter with three lines.'' Hamill said: ``I am a Catholic from Portadown. Mr. Trimble does not recognize my being.''
After hearing the lack of response Diane Hamill and her family received from the First Minister, Congressman Chris Smith announced that the committee would write a letter to David Trimble. This was met with an outburst of cheer and applause from an over-capacity audience.
Ms. Toni Carragher, Secretary of the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee, outlined a series of incidents where evidence of RUC collusion with loyalist killers is emerging.
She said: ``Evidence from a former member of the RUC would indicate that a group existed within the RUC which targeted and killed nationalists. It is our belief that at least eight murders were carried out by this group in South Armagh. This report includes several case histories outlining examples of murder, harassment, intimidation and assault by the RUC. These alone, we believe, would warrant an inquiry into the RUC.''
Congressman Joe Crowley told those in attendance that he believed that the testimony he heard was part of a ``systematic, institutional'' problem the RUC has, not isolated incidents.
Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Policing, Bairbre de Brún, said: ``The long queues of people waiting to attend the hearings and the passionate contributions from the members of the U.S. Congress show the importance with which this issue is now regarded.
She continued: ``Today's many contributions from Diane Hamill, Dr. Robbie McVeigh of the Rosemary Nelson Campaign and a host of other human rights activists highlighted the litany of abuses by the RUC over a long period of time. The RUC has lost all credibility, not only in Ireland, but internationally.''
Congressman Gilman closed the hearings, saying: ``It is self evident that the RUC must be replaced by a new police service and it is necessary to start all over with this discredited police service.
``It is my sincere hope that we do not merely see from the Patten Commission minimalist and symbolic reforms that seek to appease the dominant unionist establishment in the North while leaving this institution intact as we know it today.''