Eirigi, SDLP, Sinn Fein and Davy Hyland furious at ex-RUC officers role in PSNI
Local political parties and organisations in Newry were united in anger this week after a BBC investigation revealed the true extent of civilian officers currently employed by the PSNI. The investigation uncovered startling statistics which point towards over three quarters of civilian staff employed on temporary contracts by the PSNI, having previously worked for the disbanded RUC.
According to the BBC, nearly half of the ex-RUC officers are employed in extremely sensitive areas of policing, which include terrorism and intelligence work. In recent years local SDLP and Sinn Fein representatives have been vocal in questioning the PSNI on how many ex-RUC officers were currently employed in the new policing dispensation but were told it was impossible to establish.
Although the figures did not surprise some sections of the local community, many are angered by what they perceive as a loophole in the Patten Report. The Patten Report stipulated that ex-RUC officers could only be employed again within the Police Service of Northern Ireland in a civilian capacity and in order to do so, the ex-officers would have to repay their redundancy lump sum. It is this perceived ‘loop hole’ within the Patten Report which has angered local political parties in Newry, who believe the loophole should have been closed a long time ago.
One local Councillor, Brendan Curran of Sinn Fein, was recently at loggerheads with the PSNI over a Christmas card he received from the police. Contained within the Christmas card was an RUC emblem, which he claimed was ‘insensitive’ and showed a ‘lack of tact’ from the PSNI. He also described the RUC as a ‘discredited force’ so it is no surprise that Curran was outraged with the latest revelations about the RUC still working behind the scenes in Northern Ireland in some capacity.
Speaking to Newry Times, Councillor Curran registered his anger at the revelations. He said that the re-employing of former RUC and PSNI officers into sensitive roles within the PSNI goes against the spirit of the Patten Report. Curran, who is also a District Policing Partnership member said, “While the PSNI is doing nothing illegal by re-employing these former RUC officers, it is in fact going against the spirit of the Patten report. Because they have been re-employed in civilian roles these former officers are not accountable to either the Policing Board, the Police Ombudsman and have not signed up to the PSNI code of ethics. Those that left and accepted the redundancy package have not signed up to these new policing arrangements.”
Curran alluded to the controversial history of the RUC, stating, “Because of the roles that these former officers are now undertaking they could actually be investigating incidents that they were originally involved in themselves. Matt Baggott knows all this and it is up to him to sort it out. Sinn Féin signed up to a new policing dispensation which at its core had accountability. It is not acceptable that accountability mechanisms are now being circumvented and the Chief Constable is allowing this.”
On the unaccountability of the ex-RUC officers, Councillor Curran continued, “It is totally unacceptable that former RUC officers who took and were allowed to take huge redundancy packages under Patten have been circuitously re-employed by the PSNI yet remain unaccountable to the proper system of checks and balances.”
When questioned about the current spirit of cooperation between the Newry community and the Police, and whether the recent evidence will affect this, Curran commented, “I think this will cause great concern among members of the public as it does not paint either these former officers or the current Chief Constable in a particularly positive light. Local people here have a right to a proper police service which looks after their needs and which is totally impartial.”
With the current threat from dissident republicans adjudged to be ‘severe’ according to Northern Ireland security services, Newry Times asked Curran if there was a need for these former RUC officers to be on the PSNI payroll, which the Sinn Fein Councillor dismissed. He said, “No I do not believe this to be the case. If the skills possessed by these former officers were needed they could have been retained in the new PSNI at the time. Instead, they chose to take a massive payout and then simply walk back into their jobs.”
Despite having grave concerns about the employment of ex-RUC officers, Curran insists that Sinn Fein will retain its support for the PSNI. He added, “Sinn Féin is totally committed to working with any police officer who has signed up to the PSNI code of ethics and is answerable to the Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman and we do this on a daily basis but we have major issues with those former RUC personnel who have been re-employed in this manner.”
Eirigi was just as vocal in its condemnation. Stephen Murney – the spokesman for the Newry branch of the republican organisation – described the arrangement as ‘completely unaccountable policing’. When Newry Times asked about Eirigi’s opinion of the Policing Board Murney commented, “The revelations about the existence of a continuity RUC within the so-called civilian staff of the PSNI is evidence of the completely unaccountable nature of policing structures in the Six Counties. Eirigi has said all along that the Policing Board and the District Policing Partnerships are nothing but paper tigers with absolutely no power to alter the ethos and impact of British policing in the North.”
On the very real possibility that these ex-RUC officers still wield power and influence within the ranks of the PSNI, Stephen continued, “There has been no sea change in the thinking of those who control policing in the Six Counties. These people remain wedded to repressive strategies and tactics and continue to see the PSNI as the front line of the British occupation – and that is exactly what the force is. The PSNI remains a routinely armed force, just like the RUC; it continues to stockpile and use deadly plastic bullets. Just like the RUC; it uses repressive legislation to harass and intimidate nationalists and republicans. Just like the RUC; it blocks inquiries in an attempt to hide the truth about state killings and collusion. Given all this, it is hard not to conclude that the PSNI is simply the RUC under a different acronym.”
The Eirigi spokesman also believes these latest statistics will cause concern throughout the local community and will affect support and cooperation between the PSNI and the local community. He stated, “The news that such large numbers of RUC veterans are still serving in completely unaccountable roles will undoubtedly cause concern among members of the public, many of whom have first hand experience of repressive policing. The PSNI’s tactics on the ground and the regular revelations about their unchanging strategies and personnel are leading ever greater numbers of people to reject them as an unaccountable force.”
Murney also stated that there is no place for the ex-RUC officers on the PSNI payroll. “The RUC was an organisation that habitually abused human rights, engaged in the torture of detainees, colluded with death squads and adopted a policy of shoot-to-kill. Those who staffed this force should be facing the prospect of prosecution for these crimes, not being given continued employment,” he continued.
The news of the ex-RUC officers has not come as a great shock according to Murney. He continued, “As recently as a number of months ago it was publicly revealed that over 50 per cent of serving PSNI officers are RUC veterans. Given this, it is no surprise that members of the RUC continue to work in such large numbers in ‘civilian’ roles. The culture of repression remains embedded within the PSNI – there are no better people to serve this culture than veterans of the RUC.”
Murney also believes that a ‘gaping hole’ in the Patten Report is allowing the ex-RUC officers to gain employment again in the PSNI. “There is no loop hole in the Patten Report; rather there is a gaping hole which has allowed the culture of repressive policing to continue unimpeded. Fundamentally, this is about British government policy in Ireland and their policy remains that of protecting their presence by any means necessary, including through the use of the continuity RUC.”
Murney added that he and Eirigi would continue to campaign against what he described as ‘political and repressive policing in Newry’. He concluded by stating, “Eirigi activists have been to the fore in opposing and resisting the British police and as a result we have found ourselves in their sights time and time again. We will continue with our ‘Different Name, Same Aim’ campaign with more vigour and determination.”
Newry Times also spoke to Independent Councillor for Newry and Mourne, Davy Hyland who quit Sinn Fein in 2007 because of the contentious issues surrounding support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Speaking about the Policing Board, Hyland said, “I feel the same about the Policing Board as I always have. I am of the opinion that it is an irrelevant body with little or no powers. Those who participate in the Policing Board and DPPs claim time and time again that they are holding the PSNI accountable yet the actions of the PSNI prove otherwise.”
Hyland continued, “This recent revelation is just one in a long line of examples of how the force is accountable to no-one, another example would be when the PSNI ordered the deployment of covert SAS linked British army unit, the SRR, at the request of the then chief constable Hugh Orde. The Policing Board were not even consulted about that let alone hold the PSNI accountable.”
Like the Eirigi spokesman, Hyland claims he is not surprised by the ex-RUC statistics. “Republicans have been saying this was the case all along. Whilst others were claiming this was “a new beginning” to policing it’s now clear that they were wrong and we were right. In fact it has now emerged that former RUC members are being offered jobs without being interviewed, they are being tracked down and approached simply because they served in the RUC. The PSNI use similar tactics and strategies that were used by the RUC, most PSNI members served in the RUC. They are the RUC with simply a different name and a few cosmetic changes.”
On the ramifications of the ex-RUC officers working for the PSNI, Hyland said, “Of course the public will be concerned about these revelations. The PSNI are harming it themselves on a daily basis when they indulge in harassment, stop and searches, political policing and house raids. The police are there to protect the state, those in power and the wealthy. They are anti-working class and will suppress any type of opposition to the status quo. The public have every right to be concerned that human rights abusers who tormented our communities for decades are still involved in British policing.”
The Independent councillor believes there is no need for members of the disbanded RUC to be working in any capacity for the PSNI. “These people were involved in cover ups, shoot to kill operations and colluding with unionist death squads. If anything, they should be tried for their crimes against humanity,” he said. Hyland also stated his belief that the Patten Report has ‘something more serious than a loophole’ in it whilst also claiming that ‘most members of the PSNI were involved in the RUC.’
SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley also opposed the PSNI’s recruitment policies. He said, “If there are skills deficits then this is an issue that needs highlighted and dealt with. That said, the party is opposed to the use of ‘associates’ by the PSNI. If the PSNI is lacking any sort of resources then advice should be sought from UK and Irish counterparts on the best way to deal with the problem. Training should be provided for current officers in the PSNI to enhance their knowledge and bring their expertise to the force, and if necessary targeted recruitment should take place. We do not believe the current practice is the right way to deal with this issue.”
He added, “If recruitment is necessary then proposals should be brought to the Policing Board and the appropriate people with relevant skills should be employed.The SDLP believe there is also a major accountability issue as the former officers now recruited as civilian staff are not accountable to the Policing Board nor are they accountable to the Police Ombudsman. This is a matter which the SDLP will continue to pursue at Policing Board level.”
The PSNI, acknowledged the concerns of Sinn Fein, Eirigi, SDLP and Davy Hyland over the latest revelations but stated that it was necessary given the economic situation. When contacted by Newry Times, a PSNI spokesperson said, “The Deputy Chief Constable has acknowledged that this is an issue of concern. The temporary staffing contract for the PSNI exists to provide the Police Service with flexible staffing to address fluctuating service demands. Like many other public and private sector employers these temporary arrangements are regularly used to meet resourcing gaps and within the PSNI there is a plan in place to reduce the organisation’s reliance on agency and associate staff. This plan is being taken through the NI Policing Board’s Human Resources Committee.”
The Deputy Chief Constable stated that the reason for the ex-RUC officers’ involvement was due to a ‘combination of pressures’, which have included the unprecedented scale of change in the organisation over the last ten years, which he claimed often resulted in the loss of knowledge and specialist skills. He continued, “The PSNI follows UK and European employment legislation. As an employer, we are duty bound to do so. This legislation does not allow discrimination against any individual based on their former employment.”
“All temporary staff are accountable to the Chief Constable. They are expected to behave professionally, ethically and with the utmost integrity at all times. If there is a concern that any temporary staff have fallen short of the high standards expected, the matter will be fully investigated and, if substantiated, they will be dealt with robustly. Next month, the Chief Constable and his Command Team will return to the NI Policing Board to address this issue and outline plans for the future, therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time,” he added.
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