Issue 1 - 2023 front

1 October 1998 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

A policing service for a new future

What sort of police service is needed to replace the RUC? We carry a summary of Sinn Féin's Submission to the Commission on Policing

The participants in the Good Friday Agreement believe that it represents ``a unique opportunity to bring about a new political dispensation which will recognise the full and equal legitimacy and worth of the identities, sense of allegiance and ethos of all sections of the community in Northern Ireland.''

One litmus test which will determine the credibility of that belief is policing. In order to ensure the success of the Agreement, it is therefore crucial that the new police service affords full and equal legitimacy to all sections of the Irish people.

Those who signed the Agreement also believe it essential that the new police service be: ``professional, effective and efficient, fair and impartial, free from partisan political control; accountable, both under the law for its actions and to the community it serves; representative of the society it polices, and operates within a coherent and co-operative criminal justice system, which conforms with human rights norms''.

With regard to all of these criteria the RUC and the legal system in the North have patently failed. The RUC, throughout its violent history has been seen and has seen itself as the armed guardians of the Union; and for most of that time the paramilitary wing of the Unionist government and party.

The RUC has routinely violated, often on a massive scale, the rights of nationalists. It has never been held to effective account for these actions either by the law or any democratic mechanism. It has always been and remains completely unrepresentative of the community as a whole and both it, and the criminal justice system within which it operates, have been found to have violated the most basic international human rights standards.

The IPC found that Ryanair's claim to pay their baggage handlers better wages than other airlines did not hold true.
The RUC have been responsible for at least fifty deaths and yet no RUC Officer has been convicted of murder.

Sinn Féin believes that the Commission should access the full Stalker-Sampson report in order to draw lessons for future policing. The Commission should meet with John Stalker and Colin Sampson and relatives of the victims of this shoot-to-kill policy. The Stalker-Sampson report should be published as part of the Commission's reporting process. The use of Public Interest Immunity Certificates should cease.

It is widely believed in the nationalist community that RUC members have been actively involved in the targeting of members of their community subsequently killed by loyalists. This belief was supported by the Stevens Inquiry. There have been no prosecutions of RUC officers arising from the Stevens Inquiry even though the report identified the RUC as the original source of sensitive security documents which were passed to loyalists and four members of the crown forces involved in sectarian killings.

The Commission should obtain copies of the full Stevens report and take evidence from Mr Stevens in order to learn lessons from his investigation and apply them in plans for new policing structures. The Stevens report should be published as part of the Commission's reporting process. The Commission should also meet with the relatives of victims of collusion, and with family solicitors.

Since the early 1970s the RUC and their counterparts in the British Army have been routinely involved in the torture and ill-treatment of nationalists. Throughout the years this type of treatment has continued leading to condemnation by many international human rights groups and also by British government inquiries. Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been paid out in damages for ill-treatment in the holding centres.

However, no member of the RUC has ever been successfully prosecuted, and to our knowledge no member has even been disciplined.

Sinn Féin calls on the Commission to seek assistance from relevant international human rights bodies for its conclusions on police powers, and to take evidence from individuals to whom damages have been awarded.

A report published in April 1998 by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers concluded that the RUC had engaged in a pattern of intimidation, harassment and hindrance of defence lawyers.

Sinn Féin believes that the Commission should discuss this issue with the UN Special Rapporteur in order to ensure best international practice in relation to the approach by the new policing structures to defence lawyers. The Commission should also call for the establishment of an international independent inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane and the Brian Nelson affair. The Commission should meet with the family and colleagues of Pat Finucane and other lawyers who have had similar experiences of intimidation.

There are currently 13,000 members of the RUC. International experience indicates that in a stable society with a population of 1.5 million around 3000 police officers are required
The RUC have used emergency powers since the foundation of the northern state to harass and intimidate the nationalist community and particularly nationalist youth. Despite cessations and negotiations and the Good Friday Agreement, this approach to policing continues.

The Commission should call for the removal of all emergency legislation so that the new policing service can operate within a legislative framework appropriate to a body which is acceptable to all, rather than rely on the old coercive and failed strategies of the RUC. The Commission should call for the removal of emergency legislation in relation to the powers of the new policing services.

Seventeen people have been killed as a result of being shot by rubber or plastic bullets. Seven of those killed have been children. Thousands more have been injured. No RUC member or soldier has been convicted of any offence arising from these deaths and injuries despite significant compensation having been paid to victims.

The Commission should call for their withdrawal from use by the new policing service in public order situations. The Commission should meet at an early date with the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets and other representatives of the victims of rubber and plastic bullets.

Accountability, structure and organisation

Technical and managerial approaches to policing only have their place when there is a measure of consensus in the debate about the core issues of policy, law and justice.

Accordingly, we seek to address the macro issues with which the Commission must grapple in order to create meaningful transitional arrangements pending the establishment of all-Ireland police structures. This latter objective is one which we wish to see projected in the Commission's final report.

Accountability involves four inter-related questions:

Operational independence
The Good Friday Agreement correctly calls for the assurance that policing would be `free from partisan political control'.

Freedom from partisan political control should not mean that a Chief Constable does not have to answer for the policing decisions she/he makes. The Commission will therefore have to ensure that its proposals define clearly what operational independence means and the limits which must be placed on the Chief Constable of any new police service.

Accountability to the community
The appointment of senior officers and the allocation of budgets should be in the hands of a body which has widespread and broadly-based political support. This body should also be given powers to call those senior officers regularly to account.

We call for the establishment of a Commission, made up of Irish and British government representatives, the European Commission and legal experts such as lawyers, magistrates, criminologists and human rights experts and in the context of current political developments, political representatives of unionism, nationalism, republicanism and ethnic minorities might be involved on an equal basis. Representation on the body should ensure proper gender balance.

What is crucial is that the powers of a such a civilian oversight body be well-defined and strong enough to insist on regular reporting from the chief constable along with an obligation on the latter to defer to the commission in the case of differences of opinion.

We also feel that local advisory committees should replace the current system of Community Police Liaison Committees.

Policing should be carried out by the new police service and not by military forces. Sinn Féin wishes to see a speedy demilitarisation of policing, not only through the establishment of an unarmed police service, but through the withdrawal of British troops, including their locally based regiments.

Accountability to the law
One of the duties of the civilian oversight body must therefore be to establish a review of police law in association with the two governments to ensure that police powers throughout the island are consistent with international rights norms and become the law to which police officers would be accountable.

A further measure which would reassure those alienated from the system in the past would be the incorporation of international human rights law into this jurisdiction

Complaints mechanisms
New complaints mechanisms must be independent from the police themselves and from any civilian oversight body. They must be staffed by civilians though police advisors from the new policing service may be usefully considered.

We will measure new complaints mechanisms against the following necessary components:

The body must have a power to carry out independent investigations. This investigatory function must be completely separated from policing structures;

The body must have the power to initiate investigations irrespective of whether senior police officers wish it, and,

The establishing legislation must make the balance of probability the test for action to be taken.


Sinn Féin supports the creation of a new all-Ireland police service that respects the rights of all, is democratically accountable and representative of the people it seeks to serve. In the interim, however, there are a number of steps which must be taken to ensure that policing in the transitional period sees a marked improvement on the past.

Structures must be devised which allow for the closest possible relationship between the police and the community.

Among the options Sinn Féin promoted in 1996 was a proposal to devolve police structures along the lines of the twenty six district council areas. Such devolution could be either on district council or health or education board boundaries.

We are also in favour of a tiered approach to the new police service. Finally, it is Sinn Féin's view that all specialist counter-insurgency and other more secretive organisations must be disbanded pending the creation of the new police service.

The existence of repressive legislation North and South mitigates against the development of an effective police service in both jurisdictions.

When repressive legislation which operates both North and South is repealed we believe that co-operation between the Gardaí and police services in the six counties should be instituted at all levels and in training and operational matters. Consideration should also be given to an equalisation of names and symbols.

Following on from closer co-operation and harmonisation north and south, it is Sinn Féin's view that this will be the most cost-effective and efficient source of assistance for exceptional policing demands, an issue which the Commission is especially tasked to consider.

Community policing

One of the most crucial steps towards proper policing will be the establishment of community-based structures which can effectively deal with local issues traditionally seen as being police matters but which, in the northern context the RUC have been both unable and unwilling to deal with.

We see a positive role for local systems of restorative community justice which involve the establishment of broadly representative community management committees who will then set up local investigation, mediation and adjudication in disputed cases.

Local structures should not be seen as an alternative to formal policing. In our view restorative justice, which seeks to reconcile the victim, the offender and his or her community, is an approach that can build trust and empower individual communities affected.

We seek to standardise and regulate community structures in order that local anti-social behaviour and petty criminality can be dealt with at a local level in a way which meets victims' needs and deals with unacceptable behaviour so that the offender can be re-integrated into the community without the need for involvement of formal police and court mechanisms or physical punishment.

Sinn Féin would like the Commission to consider how these local structures can complement the new policing structures overall.

Composition, culture, recruitment and training

Policing will only be effective when a police service enjoys the support of the community it serves. If a police service is to enjoy that support it must reflect in its composition its constituent society.

There are currently 13,000 members of the RUC. International experience indicates that in a stable society with a population of 1.5 million around 3000 police officers are required. Therefore it is envisaged that a transitional police service in the North of

Ireland would be made up of 1350 (45%) Catholic/Nationalist, 1500 (50%) should be women, 54 (1.8%) should be from ethnic minority communities and 450 (15%) should be gay/lesbian.

The reduction in size of the new police service will be a crucial part of the Commission's proposals. Redundancies must be carried out within an agreed period and completed within two years. Redundancy packages including opportunities for retraining should be offered. Savings from ``security'' budgets can be used to finance this process.

The question we face in this period of transition is how to create a police service, which is acceptable to everyone living in the North of Ireland. The predominantly British and Unionist ethos of the RUC creates an alien and hostile culture.

The absence of any recognition of Irish culture - including the language - within the ethos of the RUC further emphasises its failure to represent the nationalist community living in the North of Ireland. None of the trappings of Unionism or the Protestant police force for a Protestant people can be carried into a new police service. This includes the name.

The British ethos of all the institutions of the state must change to reflect the Irish identity of nearly half of the population in keeping with the Good Friday Agreement.

Members of the new police service should not be members of the loyal orders, or any other oath bound secret organisations.

A new transitional police service for the North of Ireland must be free from any form of internal discrimination or harassment and must actively promote equality issues. A women-friendly environment free from sexual discrimination and harassment must be created. The provision of appropriate child-care and equality of opportunity in respect of job allocation and promotion must be part of the fabric of a new police service.

A new recruitment process alone will not create a representative police service. It must also sit alongside extensive reform of other aspects of the administration of justice. All necessary legislation and measures must be put in place effectively to create a representative, accountable police service within the given time frame.

Independent monitoring mechanisms in respect of membership and the recruitment process must be established and operated from the outset.

Sinn Féin calls on the Commission to recommend that all current recruitment should cease immediately. Recruitment should only resume when criteria, target setting and a new independent recruitment process have been agreed.

There can be no automatic right for former members of the RUC to gain admission to the new service. A screening process should be developed by a Commission. This process should identify and exclude human rights violators from consideration as applicants to a new police service.

The adoption of strategies calculated to integrate ex-combatants from opposing sides into new security forces and policing services has been a significant feature of many conflict resolution situations.

While Sinn Féin is not calling for the formal incorporation of ex-combatant organisations into new policing structures, it nevertheless wishes to ensure that no inappropriate obstacles are put in the way of involvement by ex-combatants in the new service.

Alongside recruitment, training goes to the core of the creation of an acceptable, representative police service. As with recruitment current training must cease immediately. To continue to engage in such training programmes is a misuse of funds.

A move away from militaristic style training is essential. Human and civil rights training should be run through all training and should demonstrate the relationship between working practices and human rights.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1