4 November 1999 Edition

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Thatcher joins RUC lobby

It would seem that old habits die hard for Maggie Thatcher. Already accustomed to defending war criminals, she has added her voice to the conservative chorus campaigning against any reforms to the RUC.

Thatcher, in a letter pledging her support to the organisers of the ``Defend the RUC'' campaign, praised the actions of the RUC as ``heroic''.

``I fully share their disgust at the thrust of the proposals contained in the (Patten) report,'' she said. Her outburst came after she was approached by that infamous resident of Dorset's Cranbourne manor, right-wing extremist Viscount Cranbourne, who, as a former leader of the Tory party in the House of Lords, was an active member of the ``Friends of the Union'' group. Cranbourne has held meetings throughout England to whip up support for the RUC.

The meetings have attracted the usual suspects into the pro-RUC camp. Among those present at the meetings to hear the rantings of Cranbourne and representatives of the `Police Federation for Northern Ireland' were Tralee tout Sean O'Callaghan and David Burnside of the Unionist Information Office in London. The campaign is being backed by longtime unionist supporter and Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore.

The pro-RUC lobby is also attracting support from New (Right-wing) Labour. Among those Labour party attendees were Gary Kent, advisor to Harry Barnes MP, and James Winstone who is a close associate of British Minister for Sport Kate Hoey.

Old Labour, in the form of Roy Mason, has lent its formidable weight to the campaign. Mason presided over the NIO when the RUC was given its head in Castlereagh to torture detainees.

Cranbourne is also claiming RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan as a supporter but added that as Flanagan is a public servant his views and actions are constrained.

Republicans, however, know only too well that the fact that Flanagan is supposed to be a public servant has never constrained his actions in the past.

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