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23 July 1998 Edition

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RUC PR stunts fool no-one

by Sean Marlow

In the aftermath of the siege of Garvaghy Road and the massacre of the Quinn children in Ballymoney, there has been much comment on the fall-out:- the self-inflicted damage to the Orange Order, the dignified response of the nationalist community as exemplified on Belfast's Lower Ormeau Road and the re-evaluation of the Orange Order and Unionism by some surprising sections of British public opinion.

One aspect, however, that has been overlooked has been the rather obvious attempts by the RUC to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of the British government and the wider public in Britain and Ireland. The Quinn children were hardly cold in their graves before Les Rogers and his Police Federation were rushing off to Tony Blair to tell him what a great fore the RUC is and how it should remain the RUC and really shouldn't be changed at all.

Even before that, the RUC PR machine was busy at work. TV cameras and press photographers were brought into hospital wards and injured officers were asked about how they had done a great job in standing up to the Orange hordes at Drumcree.

And it IS true that the RUC did not mutiny as they did in 1996, when they forced the march down the Garvaghy Road. No doubt their behaviour this year was largely due to the Good Friday Agreement with its commitment by both governments to equality and a complete review of the RUC.

Even then, the inherent sectarianism of the RUC soon became obvious as the Orange siege developed into naked sectarian violence. As in 1996, loyalist roadblocks were set up as the RUC stood by in Antrim and Down (the refusal of nationalists to give their business to Orange leaders who had stopped them getting to work seemed to put some manners on them in Tyrone and Fermanagh). In some cases the RUC even assisted in these illegal roadblocks by diverting traffic away from a few kids standing in the road.

More serious was the RUC's (lack of) response to the orgy of burning of the homes of Catholics living in areas vulnerable to cowardly intimidation. Not one loyalist was arrested in connection with the 300+ attacks on Catholic houses, schools and churches until the reaction to the horrific killings of the little Quinn boys shamed the RUC into action. Even after the Ballymoney deaths, many nationalists are being driven from their homes with little hindrance from the RUC.

The same story goes for the RUC treatment of street protests. Everyone can vividly remember the residents of the Garvaghy Road, the Lower Ormeau Road and Newtownbutler sitting down in a purely peaceful way to protest at Orange marches only for the RUC to wade into them with batons and plastic bullets to clear the roads. Contrast this with the kid-glove treatment of the numerous Orange parades over the past two weeks.

In Portadown itself, the standoff at Drumcree is in direct defiance of the Parade Commission's directive to disperse and thus is totally illegal. Yet all sorts of petrol bombers, blast bombers and gunmen had unimpeded access to the area while a humanitarian food convoy to the besieged residents was stopped by the RUC and searched three times, enabling Loyalist thugs to attack it and smash car windows.

The RUC is going to have to do a lot more than engage in PR stunts to convince their victims in the north that it is a genuine police force.

It could make a start by getting rid of all those officers who passed information to Loyalist death squads, who engaged in shoot-to-kill operations, who tortured prisoners in interrogation centres, and who shot innocent children with plastic bullets. OK, I know that there wouldn't be many left, but all the better to start afresh and create a new policing service.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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