15 July 1999 Edition
American report slams RUC
by Laura Friel
One recurring theme of all our witnesses is the inescapable conclusion that the police force in the North of Ireland, the RUC , has been at the very core of the human rights abuses and civil unrest that has plagued Northern Ireland for the last 30 years, perhaps even longer
- Congressman Chris Smith
The U.S. Congressional International Relations Committee has called on the Patten Commission to back radical transformation of policing in the North of Ireland. A delegation of American Congressmen arrived in Belfast last week to hand over a highly critical report on the RUC. The report follows hearings by the International Relations Committee held earlier this year.
The U.S. politicians presented a transcript of their hearings, which included testimonies from the families of Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill as well as submissions from international human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and the British Irish Rights Watch.
A covering letter accompanying the report reiterating the call for radical reform showed cross party support and was signed by influential figures such as Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Democrat leader Dick Gephardt.
``Never before has such a letter on the RUC been signed by the entire bipartisan top leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives,'' said Fr. Sean McManus of the Irish National Caucus. ``It represents a scorching indictment of the RUC and leaves the British government in no doubt as to where the U.S. Congress stands.''
Ben Gilman, chairperson of the U.S. International Relations Committee, called for ``root and branch'' reform. ``The historic anti-Catholic/nationalist ethos of the current policing in the North of Ireland must be totally eradicated. A new police force must be strictly impartial, truly representative of the whole community and fully accountable to all its citizens.''
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams welcomed the report, describing it as ``a significant and timely contribution to the Irish Peace Process. The hearings into the RUC, said Adams, represented a significant contributor to the policing issue and to the entire peace process.
``Through these hearings, held by the International Committee, people here in Ireland have had a democratic channel through which their views are heard. These hearings are a reassurance to people who for years were silenced, that the necessity for real change is understood and supported by Congress, ``said Adams.
Responses by unionist politicians were less than welcoming. UDP leader Gary McMichael expressed disappointment at American ``interference in internal Northern Ireland matters'', sentiments echoed by Ulster Unionist Ken Maginnis who accused Congressman Peter King of being ``partisan''.
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
- Congressman Ben Gilman
In the Congress Committee report, the British government faced overwhelming criticism of the RUC as committee member after member highlights the human rights abuses perpetrated by the force.
``One recurring theme, `` says committee member Chris Smith, from New Jersey, ``of all our witnesses is the inescapable conclusion that the police force in the North of Ireland, the RUC , has been at the very core of the human rights abuses and civil unrest that has plagued Northern Ireland for the last 30 years, perhaps even longer.''
The RUC is not only unacceptable, it is also unaccountable, acknowledges Congressman Smith. ``The facts speak for themselves. Of the 2,540 complaints notified to the Independent Committee for Police Complaints in 1996 only one RUC officer was found guilty of abuse. Of the 16,375 complaints submitted prior to 1994 not a single one resulted in any disciplinary action.''
Recounting a meeting with the RUC Chief, Smith dismisses Ronnie Flanagan as an ``obstructionist'', suggesting no reforms could be implemented while Flanagan remains in charge. ``Sir Ronnie is in deep denial about the problems in his police force and the international community's general concern about RUC abuse,'' says Smith, adding that Flanagan ``is either thoroughly uninformed about items under his supervision or he's hiding what he knows. Neither possibility fills me with any confidence''.
Congressman Sam Gedenson from Connecticut criticises the British government. Noting that the system of law and justice in America derives much from Britain, Gedenson says: ``It is disappointing to see that the British have failed to take their years and centuries of experience with due process of law and use that in Northern Ireland.
``If it was another country involved in the situation, we could probably excuse their failure to reform the system by saying they did not have the institutions. The institutions exist in England. They ought to exist everywhere,'' says Gedenson.
Congressman Robert Menendez from New Jersey questions the rationale of trying to reform rather than disband the RUC: ``There can be no sense or rationale for the continuation of a programme which trains a force, which by the accounts of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, engages in gross violations of human and civil rights. Despite good intentions and good will, you cannot professionalise an organisation that is rotten to the core,'' says Menendez.
From New York, Congressman Peter King reiterates the point: ``We're not talking about incidental violations of human rights, we're not talking about accidents or mistakes.. We're talking about a police force which is rooted in bigotry, rooted in violation of human rights and which has systematically oppressed the nationalist community in the North of Ireland.''
The RUC, says King, is a force which was ``created for the sole purpose of oppressing the nationalist community, of keeping them down, of keeping the North of Ireland in effect, a Unionist state, which does not understand the concept of human rights.''
Congressman Joseph Crowley criticised Mo Mowlam's attitude when he expressed concerns about the RUC to the British Secretary of State, describing Mowlam as ``quite miffed''. ``She alluded to the fact that we have problems in our country, we should focus on them.
``I said, with all due respect, we do have problems but they pale in comparison to what's happening in the North of Ireland. The RUC is unfit to serve as a police force and I've continually called upon Mo Mowlam and the government of Prime Minister Blair to dedicate themselves to reconstituting the RUC to become a police force which all communities can be proud of.''
``Rosemary Nelson's death is one of many that can be directly linked to the RUC and their lack of police protection of Catholics in Northern Ireland,'' continues Crowley, ``The RUC has historically abused the human rights of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland and has a history of collusion with loyalist militias and other groups who target Catholics in Northern Ireland.''
Benjamin Gilman, chairperson of the International Relations Committee points out: ``The RUC is not objective, is not impartial and lacks the support of many of the people it is intended to serve... Many in the North view the RUC as nothing more than an enforcement arm of the dominant unionist majority. Not long ago, a woman from South Armagh told our committee that the RUC, which patrols her community but does not live in or work with that community, is `` a police force without a face.''
``The issue of RUC reform is not merely one of downsizing. Ninety three percent of RUC's officers are Protestant. Just recruiting more members of the minority nationalist community is not enough. We need to see a new responsiveness and greater accountability to all of the people of Northern Ireland, irrespective of tradition,'' says Gilman.
``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.''
RUC in row over Nelson murder
By Pádraig MacDabhaid
News has just emerged that the RUC and the Independent Commission for Police Complaints (ICPC) are involved in a behind the scenes row over the handling of the Rosemary Nelson case.
Evidence of the fallout is contained in a private document written by Paul Donnelly, chairman of the ICPC in which Donnelly claims that threats against Rosemary Nelson ``would not have been investigated'' had it been left to the RUC.
The document, which is 15 pages long and has been passed to British direct ruler Mo Mowlam, contains criticism of the police complaints system, highlighting practices which Donnelly claims could be viewed as an ``outrageous, systematic undermining of the investigative process''.
The document asserts that the RUC initially refused to investigate allegations that officers made death threats against Rosemary Nelson and then only agreed to do so under pressure from the ICPC. The RUC classed the death threat claim in the relatively minor category of ``incivility''. He repeats the allegation that a senior RUC officer probing the death threat claims told at least one officer under investigation to prepare a statement in advance of the interview.
Donnelly also cites criticisms of the behaviour of RUC officers being interviewed on serious charges and asks if their attitudes ``are possibly tolerated by the organisation''.
When these matters were raised with Ronnie Flanagan, Donnelly says Flanagan ``was not of mind to exercise his discretion to have the matter formally investigated''.
Donnelly was highly critical of the complaints process writing that RUC officers are provided with ``copious material'' on the case being set out against them before they were questioned.
Donnelly couples this with the nature of the Nelson case and writes ``Matching the above, with the nature of the complaints made, the reluctance of witnesses to attend at police stations and the attitudes they expect to encounter, the remarkable fact is that any witnesses come forward in such circumstances''.
The criticisms raised in the document reflect earlier concerns expressed by the ICPC which saw the RUC removed from an internal inquiry sparked by the death threats against Rosemary Nelson.