27 July 2000 Edition
RUC - the status quo is not an option
By Laura Friel
The RUC has supported, indeed protected and promoted within its ranks, those who have systematically abused the human rights of nationalists and republicans,
said Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin at a Republican Commemoration in County Tipperary last week.
``It is clear that the British government and the Unionists must reject out of hand any notion of the new policing service being a `Continuity' RUC,'' he said.
This week began with three more compelling examples why the question of policing in the North remains central to the current peace process. The first involves a 14 year old North Belfast school boy who was attacked by an RUC patrol last Saturday night. The second relates to the pending arrests of two senior RUC Special Branch officers in connection with the 1989 killing of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane.In a scenario reminiscent of Robert Hamill, the third reflects the ongoing ambivalence of the RUC towards loyalist violence .
On Saturday July 22, Eamon Meehan, a 14 year old school boy from North Belfast was beaten with batons, punched and kicked by a group of RUC officers. During the assault, Eamon was held by the throat by one RUC officer. The teenager was saved from more serious injury by his mother who threw herself on top of Eamon, shielding him from further blows.
Meanwhile two senior RUC officers are to be arrested and questioned about collusion with loyalist death squads. The two Special Branch men are to be interviewed by the Stevens' inquiry team about the killing of Pat Finucane. They will also be questioned about the killing of 19 year old Adam Lambert, a building worker shot dead in mistaken belief that he was a Catholic in 1987.
The RUC officers facing arrest are former handlers of UDA quartermaster William Stobie who is currently facing murder charges in relation to the two deaths. During recent court hearings Stobie's lawyer claimed his client was the ``only man who did anything to try and stop the murder of Pat Finucane'' by warning his RUC handlers.
On Friday July 21, the RUC failed to intervene when an elderly nationalist was attacked and beaten by a gang of loyalists in Ballynahinch. The RUC ignored an earlier complaint about the loyalist gang who had been drinking and throwing bottles in Market Square. The elderly man was smashed over the head with a bottle and kicked unconscious. The RUC made no attempt to administer first aid to the striken man.
Earlier this month Sinn Féin launched a detailed document criticising the British government's Policing Bill, legislation currently making its passage through the British parliament. In the document Policing - A New Beginning?' Sinn Féin pointed to 89 recommendations by the Patten Commission which have been deliberately subverted in the proposed legislation.
Although there are 175 recommendations in the Patten Report, a significant number of these related to non-contentious matters relevant to the management of any policing service. Only 75 of the recommendations could be described as fundamental to the requirement for a new beginning for policing envisioned in Patten. Out of these key recommendations, 60 have been undermined and prospects for the remaining 15 are unclear.
Significantly, political control over the timing and implementation of a majority of these recommendations remain in the hands of the current RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan, the NIO and the British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson. Of the 33 core recommendations relating to accountability, the Police Board obtains primacy in just 8.
46 out of 75 key recommendations remain solely in the hands of the RUC Chief Constable. Most of these are in the crucial categories of demilitarisation, decentralisation, depoliticisation, community policing and change.
Tracing developments in the policing issue, Sinn Féin pointed out that from the outset there were powerful interest groups intent on thwarting the possibility of securing fundamental change. ``The NIO sought to undermine nationalist and republican hopes of the [Patten] Commission by packing it with individuals who would have little sympathy with or understanding of nationalism.''
The Commission's secretariat was undermined by the presence of RUC officers and civil servants from the most reactionary parts of the NIO, said Sinn Féin, yet despite this the Patten report represented an attempt to produce a compromise. But the ink was barely dry when a plot to undermine Patten was being hatched by the RUC Chief Constable.
Ronnie Flanagan established his own `change management' team which included senior RUC officers, ``to quietly put together a plan to undermine the new start envisaged by Patten.'' In addition, securocrats in the NIO took forward a plan to draft legislation to replicate the form but not the substance of the Patten model for a new beginning to policing.
Meanwhile Unionists and some RUC officers campaigned vigorously and noisily against changes to the symbols and name. Add to this an arrogant British Secretary of State who ``decided that he knew better than the panel of independent Commissioners, the panel his own government was responsible for choosing,'' and the plot to undermine Patten was up and running.
``The problem now is that the British government see compromise being somewhere between their plans and Patten,'' said Sinn Féin, ``this could undermine the huge potential for stable politics in Ireland and the safety and security in local neighbourhoods dependent on a new start to policing. Many nationalist politicians have made clear that Patten was the compromise.''
``What can Ulster Unionists find objectionable in the concept of a politically neutral Police Service?'' asked Mitchel McLaughlin. ``The approach being taken by the Unionist parties, the Police Federation and their supporters only reinforces the belief that their motivation is to retain the allegiance of any new police service to the cause of unionism.''
For Unionists it's not about names, symbols and badges, said McLaughlin, it's about maintaining control:
``These are the weapons they will use to block the changes that are necessary A new beginning to policing as negotiated and contained in the Good Friday Agreement cannot be achieved by retaining those very things that contributed to making the RUC unacceptable to republicans and nationalists ever since the force was established.''
The status quo is not an option.
Catalogue of violent attacks by RUC
By Laura Friel
A Celtic football shirt appears to be like a red rag to a bull to some members of the RUC. It's not always such plain sailing for a bigot and racist to identify their target in the North of Ireland. For the average RUC officer any difficulty can usually be overcome with a little detective work.
A name and address is usually sufficient to alert the questioning RUC officer to your religion and ethnic identity. But lets face it, if you're a taig, wearing a Celtic football top is a dead, potentially even deadly, give away.
In Belfast city centre last Friday afternoon when an RUC mobile patrol spotted a 13 year old school boy wearing a Celtic football shirt walking down Fountain Street their response was predictable as well as immediate
The two RUC officers travelling in an armoured car followed the boy into Queen Street. Here the boy was stopped , searched and arrested. The unaccompanied minor was then taken to Musgrave RUC barracks where he was held and interrogated. The boy was charged with littering and then released.
``To stop, search, arrest and interrogate a 13 year old and then charge him with littering is ridiculous,'' said West Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Fra McCann, ``in an even more sinister twist on route to the barracks the boy was intimidated and told by one of the RUC officers to cover the Celtic top he was wearing.''
This incident is only the latest in a series of RUC attacks on young people wearing Celtic tops. Just over three months ago two RUC officers were jailed and two other members of their patrol fined for their part in a sectarian assault on a young nationalist from North Belfast.
Catholic teenager Bernard Griffin had just left Ardoyne GAA club and was queuing at a chip van when he was confronted by an RUC mobile patrol. The fact that he was wearing a Celtic top, Bernard believed, was a significant factor in the RUC's decision to single him out for abuse.
Bernard was arrested and during the journey to Antrim Road RUC barracks, he was brutally beaten in the back of the RUC Land Rover. The teenager was subjected to sectarian abuse which included references to the Celtic football top he was wearing at the time. One RUC officer also threatened to have Bernard shot dead by the LVF.
In February this year, another young man from North Belfast, Alan Lundy Jr.was wearing a Celtic top when an RUC officer in the front passenger seat of an RUC Land Rover stopped and questioned him as he was walking along Fitzroy Avenue, in the University area of South Belfast.
Alan was beaten unconscious with the RUC kicking him when he was on the ground. The RUC officers stripped off his jacket and shoes and threw them away before dragging the stricken youth along the ground and throwing him in the back of the Land Rover. As he was being dragged, one RUC officer bit Alan in the hand.
Alan was held in Donegall Road RUC barracks for several hours before being released without charge. In hospital be received treatment for bruising and severe lacerations to his face. He was also given a tetanus injection for the bite wound.
In the most serious incident in August 1989, 15 year old Seamus Duffy was shot dead by an RUC officer who fired a plastic bullet at close range. The North Belfast schoolboy was wearing a Celtic top at the time he was killed.
At the inquest the RUC produced video footage of youths throwing stones. A claim that one of the stone throwers wearing a green and white striped top was Seamus Duffy was dismissed by the jury. Seamus and a companion had been walking home when an RUC vehicle came into Sheridan Street.
The RUC claimed they were unable to identify which of two RUC officers travelling in the back of the vehicle fired the fatal round. In 1990 the Director of Public Prosecutions Prosecutions decided no action would be taken against any RUC officers involved in the killing.
Meanwhile a helmeted RUC officer caught on television footage head butting a nationalist in Derry was fined after pleading guilty to assault. Last week Graham Smith of Portglenone RUC barracks became the first RUC officer to be convicted on the basis of video evidence.
In Belfast RUC officer Paul Ross was found guilty of assaulting Short Stand nationalist Christine Brennan during a HSS Stena crossing to Stranraer last year. A row had ensued after the off duty RUC officer made sectarian comments to an employee of his brother's security firm about her Catholic boyfriend. The RUC officer bit Christine Brennan on the ear after his remarks were challenged by other ferry passengers.
Commenting on the most recent incident, Sinn Féin Councillor Fra McCann said, ``Two weeks ago we were faced with violence and road blocks by members of the Orange Order and their supporters while the RUC stood by and allowed such antics to continue.''[p]
``Contrast their attitude to the Orange Order to the actions against a 13 year old nationalist and we can see clearly why a repackaged RUC will never be acceptable to the nationalist people.''
RUC man calls Cathoics ``AIDS carriers''
An RUC man who was described as having ``gone berserk'' shouted that Catholics were ``AIDS carriers''.
According to Sinn Féin representative John Leathem Springfield Road residents had gathered in the area last week ``to take stock'' of things after the trouble over the Twelfth. Loyalists had attacked the area on a nightly basis and the area was tense. Local residents had called the meeting in an attempt to calm things and it was while the meeting was going on that this RUC man came along. He abused individuals in the crowd, identifying them by name and then he threatened to come back and kill people.
Leathem said: ``We were trying to create a situation that we could control, given the tension in the area, and this RUC man was just trying to deliberately wreck things. He seemed hell bent on causing as much trouble as possible''.
RUC raid Derry GAA club
An RUC search squad raided the Sean Dolans GAA club in Derry on Monday morning 24 July.
The RUC claimed they were searching for illegal alcohol but they left the premises 45 minutes later empty-handed according to local people .
Anne Sands, the club's development officer, was in the premises on her own when a large RUC search squad arrived and demanded access.
At one point the RUC had considered extending their search to the Bunscoil which is adjacent to the club.
A local resident said they could see the RUC looking into the school through the windows while Anne Sands said the search squad told her they, ``have the power to enter the school if the keys couldn't be found''.