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27 February 1997 Edition

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The law and order man

Holding the Line: Sir John Hermon - An Autobiography
Published by Gill and Macmillan
Price £16.99

Jack Hermon is not the type of guy you'd want to tag along with you and your mates.

He tells us about the funniest thing that happened to him during his RUC training in Enniskillen in 1950 when he and four others sneaked off in a rowing boat to watch a Twelfth of July parade. One of them made ``a loud comment'' about two Orangemen ``obeying a `call of nature''' and everyone fell about laughing ``and then panicked''. They fled to the boat, an oar broke.... Laugh? I nearly cringed.

In truth, it says a lot about him. Hermon was a big country lad from Islandmagee, Co Antrim who had had a lonely, sheltered upbringing. In the RUC he found his vocation. Enforcing laws - which he learned off by heart - clearly suited a personality which lacked creativity and imagination. All work and no play made Jack a dull boy. He was a man made for rules and regulations.

He quickly established a reputation as an authoritarian which stayed with him to his years as Chief Constable during the 1980s.

In any other force that narrow vision would have served him well - he would be called a ``copper's copper'' and all the other euphemisms for a ruthless law enforcer. In the RUC he was a man for the times - a political instrument.

Hermon defends the RUC to the hilt. Of their famous televised baton attacks on civil rights protestors in Derry on 5 October 1968 he doesn't offer sectarianism as an explanation for their behaviour. No, the RUC came under ``political pressure'' and was ill-prepared for the task it was asked to perform. What lesson did Jack Hermon learn? ``It was from that time onwards that I evolved in my mind a firm and lasting commitment that the RUC should always be adequate for whatever task was demanded of it.''

He describes repeatedly how he worked to keep the RUC free from politics without beginning to acknowledge that, because of the nature of the state, the RUC could be nothing but political. If the state's very legitimacy is in dispute, those who enforce its laws are necessarily acting in a political way.

He seems to have no concept of the historical forces at play in the Six Counties. He sees only goodies and baddies - ``the law-abiding sections of our community'' and the law-breakers.

It was Jack Hermon whose policy it was to attack republican funerals. He expresses no regret for this and blames republicans for exploiting the deaths. In defending his policy he betrays no understanding of republicans. When he later describes how attending RUC funerals drove him to despair, his policy towards republican dead appears vindictive.

The Stalker affair is covered at length and is largely aimed at self-exoneration. Yes, lies were told, files were witheld, there were suspicious deaths in a short period of time in a small area, Stalker was removed from the inquiry in strange circumstances and yes, the RUC is a fine force which did no wrong.

Hermon was not personally sectarian. Rather, his loyalties were to the state, to ``law and order'', to the RUC and, rather pathetically, to the Royal Family. He was an uncultured man whose bluff temperament didn't allow him to take criticism. His legacy, far from creating a professional, acceptable police force was there to see last year on the Garvaghy Road. Has anything changed from October 1968?

A picturesque history

An Illustrated History of Ireland.
By John Grenham
Published by Gill & Macmillan
Price £5.99

``I only get it for the articles''. How often have I heard that excuse about the best-selling pornographic magazine Playboy. Well, in the case of the book under review, I can honesty say I would get it for the pictures.

Yet another Illustrated History of Ireland has reached my desk, this time the author is genealogist John Grenham. Aimed primarily at the North American visitor it will be a bestseller with its chapter on emigrants and Irish America, and its reasonable price for such a glossy full-colour production.

It is only 70 pages with a historical essay of less than 15,000 words, covering history from prehistoric Ireland to the famine and its effects. The essay is very reasonable, with the complexity of Irish history simplified though not in a detrimental way.

The book with its delightful photographs and illustrations would serve as a good history primer for visiting foreigners or even those uninitiated Irish.

By Deirdre Nic an tSaoir

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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