To Police or not to Police that is the question facing young members of the minority community in Northern Ireland as the government’s advertisement programme to recruit them to the Force gets underway.
With the Chief Constable himself, Ronnie Flanagan, discussing, or negotiating with political groups about his need and desire to recruit a proportionate complement of officers, and to overcome the reluctance of Nationalist/Republican politicians to recommend young men and women to join a reconstituted service, albeit with an RUC tag.
There is still a feeling among these sections that the reforms envisaged in the Patten Report have not been fully met in the new legislation.
And in pursuit of the same aim to obtain acceptance Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff, Jonathan Poule, is reported to have made a trip to see Gerry Adams in ‘darkest West Belfast’.
Benign pictures of community policing in Northern Ireland are appearing on television screens as part of the drive to dispel the image of the reality of policing since partition and the turbulent events of the last thirty years which impacted across the world.
The idea of the police being just citizens in uniform has never really taken hold in the Six Northern Counties, which were established by force of arms, and maintained that way for all but a few years in their history since 1920.
Their semi-military nature could be seen by the fact that they were trained to use machine guns and rifles, and until the late 1960s, controlled events in the streets, without bach up from the military, and police stations were called barracks. They patrolled with revolvers at their belts, and in groups in particular years.
The transition from War to Peace in any country is seldom easy, but the RUC has to overcome its image as a partisan paramilitary force since its inception, from out of the RUC which existed prior to Partition.
It is a sad reflection on the society in Northern Ireland that the force of law and order has to be constituted on the basis of religious affiliation which is equated with an ethnic differentiation.
This is the problem in the way of recruitment where the past behaviour and attitude from the majority community seeped into and dominated the ethos of policing.
One of the main difficulties to overcome is the fact that the police officers can only gain respect by living in their co-religionists’ communities, where they may be under pressure and suspicion in carrying out their duties.
Until the ghetto structure of Northern Ireland society is changed and the new governmental administration is firmly established and accepted by both communities, particularly the majority (at present) one, it will be a long slow path to political free policing.
Nonetheless, the Nationalist community generally must face the question, that to join the Police is to play their part in bringing about the necessary changes.
It would be ironic that if after the case for ‘parity of esteem’ was won that to obtain the requisite proportion vis a vis the communities, that recruitment would have to be widened to take recruits from outside the boundaries of Northern Ireland to achieve religious balance.
(undated article – early March, 2001)