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Centre for the Study of Conflict
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Policing a Divided Society frontispiece

Policing a Divided Society: Issues and Perceptions in Northern Ireland

by Andrew Hamilton, Linda Moore and Tim Trimble
Published by the University of Ulster, Coleraine 1995
ISBN 1 85923 027 X
Paperback 160pp £8.00

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Centre for the Study of Conflict
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Policing a Divided Society:
Issues and Perceptions in Northern Ireland

by Andrew Hamilton, Linda Moore and Tim Trimble

Centre for the Study of Conflict
University of Ulster



Objectives and Methodology


The Historical Context


The Administrative Structure


The Legal Framework and Complaints Procedures


Implications for Community Policing and Public Order Policing


Catholic Derry


Protestant Londonderry




East Belfast


Conclusions and Recommendations



The Centre for the Study of Conflict is a research centre based in the University of Ulster. Its main work is the promotion and encouragement of research on the community conflict in Northern Ireland and to this end it concentrates on practical issues to do with institutional and community structures and change. It publishes papers and books arising out of this work including: a series of research papers particularly designed to make available research data and reports; a series of Majority-Minority reports; and a series of occasional papers by distinguished academics in the field of conflict.

This paper is a new publication by Andrew Hamilton, Linda Moore and Tim Trimble which is based on detailed and comprehensive field work over two years in three locations in Northern Ireland. It examines the history of policing, how it is legally and administratively structured, and identifies the most salient issues. It then collects and analyses the perceptions of communities, their political and community representatives, and police-related individuals and organisations with respect to the complete range of contested issues. It ends by making a number of recommendations arising out of the data and its analysis.

This report is one of a set of new publications which the Centre will produce over the next few months and a detailed list is provided at the end of this report.

Seamus Dunn
July 1995.

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Objectives and Methodology


All societies are based on a system of rules and laws, and have created agencies to administer and enforce those laws. in most liberal-democratic societies the overwhelming majority of people accept the legitimacy of the law and of the law enforcement agencies. The problems of policing become more complex when such a consensus does not exist, as is the case in Northern Ireland, where there are deep political cleavages, including alternative aspirations as to the constitutional future of the territory. Added to the political divisions is, on the one hand, the existence of paramilitary violence and, on the other, a number of emergency legislative measures giving wide powers to the various branches of the security forces. The security forces also face the dual problem of acting effectively and maintaining confidence across the whole community.

In such a situation, there is immense pressure and responsibility on the security forces generally and on individual members of those forces. On the other hand, there is the concern that some categories of people may receive unfair or excessive treatment from the security forces. Since the late 1960s there have been a number of reforms of the organisation and operations of the security forces in response to both these concerns.

The Political and Security Contexts of the Studies

The fieldwork for this study was carried Out between September 1992 and April 1994. This was a period of great political instability in Northern Ireland with a need for continuing security activities. The province was being subjected to an intensified bombing campaign by the IRA, focusing largely on Protestant towns, and there was an escalation of killings by both republican and loyalist paramilitaries, particularly in parts of Belfast. In October 1993 an IRA bomb killed ten people in a fish shop on the Shankill Road in Protestant west Belfast. A week later, loyalist paramilitaries shot dead seven people in a mainly Catholic pub close to the Waterside area of Derry/Londonderry.

On the political front uncertainty reigned. Talks between the constitutional political parties in the province had broken down and the response of the republican and loyalist paramilitaries, and their associated political parties, to the Downing Street Declaration was not yet known when the fieldwork ended. The IRA and loyalist ceasefires were not, in fact, called until 31 August and 13 October 1994 respectively.

These ceasefires have further stimulated the debate concerning future policing arrangements in Northern Ireland (see section 10 for further discussion), and have already led to the withdrawal of the army from the streets of urban areas, at least during daytime hours, and to a more "relaxed" form of policing by the RUC. They have also enabled the RUC to begin to address some of the issues raised in the studies; for example, the demands for more community policing and the criticisms frequently made about slow response times to calls concerning "ordinary" crime in some of the areas being studied. However, even these measures are in their early stages and most of the key issues identified by the studies remain unresolved.

In February 1995 the British government published two "Framework Documents", the first of which contained its own proposals for new institutional arrangements in Northern Ireland, while the second contained the joint proposals of the British and Irish Governments concerning new political arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and between the two Governments.

In the first of these documents, the British Government stated its willingness to consider "proposals designed to enhance the extent to which the community at large in Northern Ireland can identify with and give full support to the police service". It added that the Government's direct responsibility for policing and security matters will continue so long as the security threat "is such that the active support of the armed services is necessary and emergency legislation is required"; but that "as that threat diminishes, so the likelihood increases that responsibility for policing matters, principally funding and the setting and monitoring of police objectives, could be transferred to [the appropriate committee of any new Northern Ireland Assembly]" (NIO, 1995: 7-8).

Aims and Objectives

The aim of this study is to investigate and seek to understand the problems of policing a divided society. The objectives are:

i. to document the historical, legal and administrative contexts of policing in Northern Ireland;

ii. to identify security forces' policies and procedures that may influence relations with the public;

iii. to gather community views on local policing;

iv. to make recommendations based on the findings of the research.

A number of benefits are likely to flow from such a study. It should give greater insight into the difficulties of policing a divided society and some of the lessons from the Northern Ireland experience will be shared more widely. It should point to areas where the training and operations of the security forces might be improved, with a view to improving the relationship between the security forces and the public.

Methodology: The Historical, Legal and Administrative Context

This involved a review, using mainly documentary sources, of the historical context of policing in Northern Ireland, the legal powers held by the various branches of the security forces and the administrative context within which they exercise those powers.

Security Forces' Policies and Procedures

Three aspects of official policy and operational practice were considered relevant. The first involves formal procedures for determining policy and transmitting it to junior ranks. The second concerns procedures which govern relations with the public. The third is the application of policy in practical situations.

We had originally hoped to have gained access, through the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) management, to a wide range of police officers of all ranks, particularly those operating within the communities being studied. However, the RUC declined to provide such access and instead granted two interviews with senior officers, to deal with specific issues such as training, recruitment and complaints procedures. The army adopted a similar position and we had one interview with civilian representatives of the army. Despite being denied the broad access which we originally requested, it was believed that insight into these issues could be gained in a number of ways:

i. interviews with senior staff to discuss specific issues.

ii. the use of existing research material;

iii. the use of other published material, official and semi-official;

iv. interviews with representatives of the Police Federation (the RUC "trade union").

Community Perceptions

This involved a number of approaches to the collection of data:

(a) An assessment of the perceptions of the security forces held by various institutions or organisations operating within communities (for example, political parties, churches, community organisations). This should also indicate their views on complaints against the security forces and the role of these institutions/organisations in mediating disputes between the public and the security forces. This involved unstructured but focused interviews with individuals from such institutions and organisations, representing both the Catholic and Protestant communities.

The main objective of these interviews was to identify issues which could be built into our later interviews at local level. After deliberation, Sinn Féin formally declined to participate in the study at a community level, largely on the grounds that the study would be focusing on mechanisms to reform the RUC and make it more acceptable, whereas they believed the force to be unreformable and, as such, incapable of winning the support of the nationalist community. Although we stressed that we would be willing to report their views, they continued to decline but agreed to grant an interview with two party representatives in the party office in Belfast. By the time of Sinn Féin's decision not to cooperate locally, we had already received the help of a Derry councillor whose views have been recorded in the Derry community study.

(b) Community studies which investigated attitudes towards the security forces, local expectations, and the extent of and reasons for any dissatisfaction in particular areas. This involved semi-structured depth interviews with people in the local community. These included key figures such as local politicians, community activists, church leaders, teachers, youth workers, probation officers, and representatives from a wide range of other voluntary and statutory agencies operating within the areas. These interviews were carried out on an individual basis. The researchers also interviewed many local people, particularly young people, both individually and in groups, and people who have come into contact with the police (e.g. people who have been interviewed by the police, people who have been approached with regard to "informing", victims of crime etc.). The interviews were carried out within the communities themselves and, with the exception noted above, we received widespread cooperation within the communities being studied. As far as possible interviews were tape-recorded. However, while most politicians readily agreed to be taped, those in the voluntary and statutory sector mostly insisted that any conversations must be "off-the-record" and used for background only. Any interviews with local residents have, of course, been carried out on the basis of anonymity. For the same reason, although we have identified the cities/towns covered by the studies we have not named the specific localities which were the main focal points of those studies.

(c) Observation studies of people who are believed to receive special attention from the security forces: existing research suggests that the groups involved include urban, working-class, young males (both nationalist and loyalist) and Sinn Féin activists. The researchers visited the areas regularly, over a period of several months in each case, carrying out these observations and interviews.

(d) Data obtained from previous studies and surveys, where appropriate.


In deciding on the areas to be studied, we were looking for areas which included both Catholic and Protestant communities and which were subject to at least fairly extensive policing. At the same time it was necessary to avoid areas where current levels of violence were particularly high, mainly out of consideration for the safety of researchers, but also because conflict is a dynamic concept and particularly high levels of tension could distort the data.

While we accept that studies carried out in different types of area might well have resulted in significantly different findings, we would argue that an understanding of community perceptions and attitudes in the types of area chosen is crucial in trying to arrive at widely acceptable policing structures and policies in Northern Ireland.

The three areas chosen were Derry/Londonderry, Dungannon and East Belfast.

1. Derry/Londonderry, is situated in the north-west of the region, 75 miles from Belfast but only some 2 miles from the border with the Republic of Ireland. It is the second largest city in Northern Ireland with a population of 74,055, 18 per cent of whom are Protestant. Mass population movements in the 1970s and a continuation of that process since then, albeit at a slower rate, have resulted in a sharply segregated society. On the west bank of the River Foyle (the Cityside) the proportion of Protestants has fallen from 20 per cent in 1971 to 5 per cent in 199 1. On the east bank (the Waterside) the population mix has been much more stable, with the proportion of Protestants increasing from 57 per cent in 1971 to 59 per cent in 1991 (Boyle and Hadden, 1994: 6). But even here, the two communities are almost totally segregated, particularly in working-class areas.

In 1984 the Government agreed that the City council, now controlled by nationalist parties, would be known as Derry although the official name of the city would be continue to be Londonderry. This remains a sensitive issue within the city and, out of respect for these sensitivities, we have used Derry when describing the study in the Catholic area and Londonderry when describing the Protestant area.

The city was one of the main centres of the civil rights movement in the late 1960s and later one of the areas most intensely affected by the rioting and paramilitary activity in the 1970s, although even then the level of inter-sectarian killing was much lower than, for example, in parts of Belfast. Since the 1980s the level of violence has dropped off sharply, but the city has not been immune from bombings and killings and remains one of the most highly policed areas in the province.

The study focused on two areas:

i. A mainly working-class estate on the Cityside, about 3 miles from the city centre. It has a population of some 2,500 people, almost all Catholics. The estate itself is a public sector estate, although about 15% of the dwellings have now been sold to tenants, and there is other private sector housing fringing on the estate.

ii. A working-class estate on the Waterside, about 11 miles from the city centre. It has a population of some 1,200 people, almost all Protestants. Although the estate was built by the public sector, more than 30 per cent of the dwellings are now privately owned. It is close to a Catholic area and is, therefore, a potential flashpoint. It also fringes on a middle-class area which is religiously mixed though mainly Protestant.

Unemployment, and particularly male unemployment has long been a major problem in Derry/Londonderry. Indeed, in December 1994 the male unemployment rate of 23.2 per cent was nearly 50 per cent higher than for Northern Ireland as a whole (Department of Economic Development Press Notice). Unemployment was noted as a particular problem in both of the areas being studied.

2. Dungannon, in County Tyrone is a market town and local administrative centre in the south of the region, just over 30 miles from Belfast and less than 10 miles from the border with the Republic of Ireland. The District Council area which it services has a population of 45,428, of which 46% are Protestants and 44% Catholics with 12% not stated (1991 Census; Boyle and Hadden, 1994: 29) The town itself, which has a population of just over 8,000 and is also almost evenly comprised of Catholics and Protestant, has suffered greatly from IRA bombing campaigns, and there have been many attacks on RUC stations in the area, as well as a number of killings at the hands of not only members of paramilitary organisations, both loyalist and republican, but also members of the security forces.

Dungannon town, which was the main focus of this study, is very segregated in terms of housing and the situation has worsened over the period of the troubles. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has been attempting to introduce more mixed estates but this is a very gradual process.

Concern about the levels of segregation and associated sectarianism has led to attempts to encourage cross-community communication. In addition, since 1988, Dungannon District Council has had a power-sharing arrangement in which the council chairs rotated between nationalist and unionist parties on a six monthly basis. However, neither the DUP nor Sinn Féin are involved in the arrangement.

In December 1994, unemployment in the Dungannon area stood at 13.8 per cent with male unemployment at 17.6 per cent; both figures were slightly above the Northern Ireland average (Department of Economic Development Press Notice).

3. East Belfast is the main heartland of working-class Protestantism in the city of Belfast. It has a total population of 80,187 of whom only 11% are Catholics, and, in working-class areas such as those being studied, the two communities are almost totally segregated.

The focus of the study was on two adjacent communities in the inner-city area, one community (of approximately 5,000) almost exclusively Catholic, and one (of approximately 10,000) almost exclusively Protestant. Both areas have experienced considerable urban renewal in recent years, but the demographic makeup of both communities has remained largely constant. The area as a whole is policed by personnel from an RUC station which is situated in the middle of the Catholic community.

Although east Belfast experienced high levels of violence in the 1970s, in more recent years it has not seen the same levels of sectarian violence as in north and west Belfast, although there have still been a number of killings. The interface between the two communities being studied has been relatively free of conflict in recent years; indeed, the area seemed, at the time of the study, to have largely escaped the sectarian conflict which was occurring in other similar areas of Belfast. The policing style which was adopted in this area perhaps reflected this relative calm, although as we shall see, police would still invariably be accompanied by army personnel in the Catholic area.

In recent years, male unemployment has become a particularly serious problem in east Belfast, and it was noted as such in the two areas being studied.

The studies were sequential, starting in Derry/Londonderry, moving on to Dungannon and finishing in Belfast, although the researchers made return visits to the areas studied previously.

Presentation of Studies

Unlike the other two studies, i.e. Dungannon and east Belfast, the two communities in Derry/Londonderry were policed from different police stations, and in fact the study produced such a depth and diversity of material that it quickly took on the shape of two separate studies and has been reported on as such. This richness of material resulted in the Derry/Londonderry studies being extended beyond the time originally allocated, and this, together with changes in staffing, led to a shorter time being available for the Belfast study than had been intended. However, it was considered worthwhile to proceed in order to provide a further example of the similarities and differences in attitudes which exist in different parts of Northern Ireland.

In presenting the community studies, we have normally begun by examining the general perspectives of the communities and their representatives, and then moved on to examine their views on particular issues. However, the varying compositions and problems of the communities themselves are reflected in the presentation. For example, in the case of the study of the Protestant Londonderry community there were such wide divergences in the views of the political representatives and the residents that we have examined them separately.

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In the wake of the paramilitary ceasefires, the long-running debate concerning policing in Northern Ireland has further intensified. There is broad agreement that a widely acceptable police service is an essential ingredient - and some would argue a prerequisite - of any lasting peace settlement. However, at this point the consensus quickly breaks down.

Indeed, there is not even agreement on how the debate should proceed. On the one hand, the Chief Constable has argued for a "government-led" debate and has suggested that the government should establish a commission on the future of the RUC (to examine policing procedures and Systems of accountability), chaired by a "distinguished Northern Ireland person" (Irish News, 27 January 1995). On the other hand, PANI has opted for a community-led" approach and has already begun a new "community consultation" initiative, intended to give people and organisations from all walks of life the chance to have their say about the kind of police service they want. This will not only look at future policing needs and priorities, but also at the whole framework of the RUC and the relationship between the police and the community (Belfast Telegraph, 4 January 1995).

When we move on to actual proposals, it is clear that there has been little change in the polarisation of attitudes along sectarian lines. Sinn Féin continues to argue that the only way to achieve an acceptable police force is the disbandment of the RUC (a view supported by 45% of Catholic respondents in a recent opinion poll (Irish Independent, 3 February 1995). On the other hand, unionist politicians continue to argue that there is no real need for fundamental reform (and Protestant opinion appears to support them; in the opinion poll referred to above, fewer than 10% of Protestant respondents were even prepared to support such largely symbolic measures as the renaming of the RUC or a change in uniform).

It would, of course, be dangerous to base important decisions on one snap opinion poll. Furthermore, while it has become the convention to talk about Catholic and Protestant attitudes towards the police, as though we were dealing with two relatively homogeneous groups, this study has highlighted the wide divergencies, not only between these two communities, but also within the communities even at local levels, and between the perceptions of communities of the same religious composition in different parts of the region. In so doing, it has also highlighted the difficulties in reaching any widely agreed solution to the issue of policing this divided society.

There is a fairly general agreement that any solution will require a widely accepted political settlement Indeed, most unionist politicians would tend to see this as sufficient in itself (since it would lead not only to the end of violence, but also to a situation in which nationalist politicians and their constituents could express allegiance to the state and to its institutions, including the police force). Until very recently this also seemed to be substantially the view of the RUC itself, although the force is now stressing both its willingness and its ability to adapt to changing circumstance. Indeed, the Chief Constable has now sketched out suggestions for a two-tier policing structure, with a strong emphasis on community policing by locally based officers in close contact with the communities they are policing. However, both tiers would remain firmly rooted within the RUC (Belfast Telegraph, 15 March 1995).

Nationalist politicians see the situation very differently. They argue that to adopt the view that the policing problem is essentially an offshoot of the broader political problem, or can be solved simply by some organisational restructuring within the RUC, is to miss the fundamental point that policing has been, and continues to be, an important constituent part of that broader problem, and as such the policing problem needs to be resolved as part of achieving that broader settlement. This latter perspective is generally supported by our studies of Catholic areas.

The east Belfast study and, though to a much lesser extent, the Derry study, do show some credit being given by Catholic communities to the efforts of the RUC to repair relationships. The east Belfast study also highlights the role "sensitive" local commanders can play in improving those relationships. However, whatever the differences in emphasis, the studies of the three Catholic communities support the view that the historical legacy of the RUC, some of its current policies and practices, and its composition, require fairly fundamental reforms to achieve a situation in which the police force is widely acceptable to Catholics in Northern Ireland.

The SDLP, arguing that Northern Ireland is probably unique among divided societies in operating a uniform police structure, has suggested the creation of four regional forces to replace the RUC. However, Brogden (1994: 18-19) claims that such a structure would enjoy neither the advantages of local, communal contact nor the efficiency benefits of centralisation. He goes on to outline a different approach to restructuring with the creation of a two-tier police service, with a reconstituted RUC assuming responsibility for all intercommunal crime and for the more serious offences such as homicide and rape, while locally recruited civilianised forces, with powers of arrest limited to citizens powers, would provide "local policing by local people". Local communities could choose to have the RUC deal with local crime, but conversely they could select local policing structures to resolve low-level crime and interpersonal disputes.

Certainly either of these suggestions, and particularly the latter, could have a significant impact on some of the most deeply held grievances within Catholic communities. However, even if practical problems, such as the clear definition of demarcation lines, whether geographical or functional, could be resolved, they would still seem to be faced with a major political hurdle.

Although our studies suggest that there is a significant, and increasing, disquiet among sections of the Protestant population with regard to particular aspects of current policing, the overall perception of the Protestant population remains supportive of the RUC, and anything which was seen as the effective disbandment of the RUC would be seen as a betrayal of a force which has been in the front line of protecting them for more than twenty five years, and which has paid a high price in that role. Any measure which was seen in that light would, therefore, almost certainly lead to considerable political opposition from the Protestant community, and might simply replace one political problem with another. In that sense, discussion of overall structures is primarily a political issue and we will focus here on issues which will need to be dealt with, whatever structures emerge

Police Complaints Procedures

With the exception of the unionist political representatives in Derry - who admitted that they had little experience of the formal police complaints procedure, and who in any event seemed somewhat out of touch with the views of constituents - there was very little confidence in the present system. The ICPC maintains that while it would like to see some changes, such as having the power to "call in" cases, it is broadly satisfied with the present system and all that is really required is some "fine tuning".

However, the fact is that of 1,232 allegations of assault made in the period 1989-1992 by people arrested under the emergency legislation, the ICPC was unable to substantiate a single one of these allegations; the reason repeatedly given, apart from the complainant's refusal to cooperate with the investigation, was insufficient evidence" (Dickson and Millar, 1993:90). At the very least, this casts serious doubts on the effectiveness of the system, although, as mentioned earlier, it must be pointed out that the ultimate responsibility for deciding whether or not to prosecute in a case which might involve a criminal offence rests not with the ICPC but with the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Furthermore, the ICPC point out that most complaints involve the word of the complainant against the word of the police officer(s), without independent evidence, and argue that the proposed changes relating to the standard of proof required in disciplinary hearings would make it easier to deal with such cases. However, it seems clear from our studies that for many people the key issue is the continuing perception of a system in which the police investigate themselves - even though, as was stressed earlier, the investigations are supervised by the ICPC. It would appear, therefore, that while the actual investigations are carried out by officers within the police service itself, there is very little prospect of achieving widespread confidence in the system.

It is interesting that both RUC and Police Federation representatives told us that they were not opposed in principle to independent investigations, although the Federation representatives stressed that they would need to see specific proposals before coming to a definitive view. The RUC management stressed the practical difficulties, in particular who, other than the police, would train the investigators. However, there would seem to be a number of professions other than the police service which have the necessary investigatory skills and backgrounds, and even it were true that the initial recruitment to any independent investigative agency would have to rely heavily on officers from the RUC or other police forces, this in itself would not negate the value of such an agency. There is ample evidence from various walks of life that people moving from one organisation to another do not necessarily bring with them, or long retain, their previous allegiances. The ICPC would argue that there is no evidence that an independent investigative agency would be more effective in proving cases against the police. However, the evidence from our studies suggests that it would, at least, enjoy greater confidence.

We strongly recommend, therefore, the creation of a totally independent investigative agency, not involving any serving police officers. This investigative agency must be provided with sufficient powers to ensure full cooperation from both police service management and individual officers.

Catholic Recruitment to the Police Service

The position of the RUC management on the recruitment of Catholics has consistently been that Catholics are both welcome and wanted within the RUC, and the main impediments to the recruitment of more Catholics rest within the Catholic communities themselves, or with the failure to reach a political solution in the province. In a recent interview the Chief Constable stressed that this welcome to Catholics applied whatever their political affiliations:

"I want policemen and women first I don' t want men and women who say I am a nationalist policeman, I am a loyalist policeman, I am a unionist policeman. I want policemen and women who will give their loyalty to providing an impartial police service for the well-being of all the people in this community. Their private voting interest, their private personal views about government and the way the UK should be managed - that is a matter for them" (Irish News, 27 January 1995).

In the same interview he took heart from the fact that the number of Catholics applying to join the RUC has increased dramatically since the IRA ceasefire. He said that Catholic applications received as a result of the RUC's latest recruitment campaign, amounted to 21.5% of the total received, whereas before the ceasefire only 12% of those seeking to join the force were Catholics. He said that he strongly hoped that "in the fullness of time", the religious balance of the police force would reflect that of the community as a whole (Irish News, 26 January 1995).

It is true that this represents a significant and welcome improvement, but even leaving aside the fact that 21.5% is still only about half the proportion of Catholics in the population as a whole, the Chief Constables views seem optimistic for a number of reasons.

Our studies have shown that there is clearly substantial truth in his analysis of some of the major impediments to Catholic recruitment, and this would seem to be confirmed by the 1993/94 Community Attitudes Survey in which 72 percent of Catholic respondents identified the fear of intimidation or attack as a factor which would deter them from joining the police force in Northern Ireland, compared to only 20 per cent who identified a lack of support for the system of government as a factor. However our studies also provided significant evidence that factors associated with the RUC itself were also of fundamental importance in limiting Catholic, and even more so "nationalist" recruitment. In particular, the view persisted among many Catholics that the RUC remained essentially a Protestant or unionist force; a view reinforced for many by the symbolism and trappings of the force. Even apolitical settlement will not, on its own resolve, that issue.

A change in name and the removal of those symbols strongly linking the force to a state from which they have felt alienated, would seem to be essential elements in making the police service more acceptable to those Catholics whose long-term political aspirations may favour removal of the British presence. While Protestants would clearly not actively support such moves, one might hope that they would accept them in the context of an overall political settlement which promised peace while not threatening their sense of identity.

We strongly recommend, therefore, a change in name and the removal of much of the existing symbolism of the RUC as an essential first element in seeking to make the force more acceptable to nationalists.

However, there may be an even more serious impediment to achieving a religiously/politically balanced police force. In recent months there has been considerable speculation, encouraged in part by the Secretary of State, that in the event of prolonged peace there will have to be a severe cutback in the establishment of the RUC. In his recent interview, the Chief Constable dismissed suggestions that the RUC was facing a drastic reduction in its overall strength in the near future, and said that he foresaw "a steady level of recruitment against a steady level of wastage and I see in that steady level of recruitment a growing number of members of the Catholic faith and they will be very welcome to the RUC" (Irish News, 26 January 1995).

Nevertheless it is difficult to believe that, in the light of pressures on public expenditure, the police service could long avoid considerable reductions in numbers in the event of a "peace settlement". In that event, it is equally difficult to see how, in a contracting force, the proportion of Catholics can be significantly and rapidly increased, particularly in view of the Chief Constable's position that the "merit principle" must continue to be the overriding consideration in recruitment. Lennon has calculated that even if any required overall reduction in the strength of the police force could be achieved largely by running down the part-time and full-time reserves, and even if 50% of new recruits were Catholic, then in ten years time Catholics would still only comprise about 25% of the police force (Lennon, 1995:156).

Obviously the types of restructuring suggested by the SDLP or Brogden would facilitate the process of increasing Catholic involvement in policing. In the absence of such measures, the government may well have to grasp the nettle of what is likely to be an almost equally controversial issue; the possibility of accepting the principle of reverse discrimination in recruitment to the police service. This would be strongly resisted by the RUC management, not only on the grounds that not adhering to the merit principle would inevitably lead to a lower standard of recruit and thus a worse police service, but that it would be offensive to Catholic officers.

Community Policing

There was almost unanimous support in our studies for much greater use of "proper" community policing. The basic RUC position would be that this will develop naturally with the establishment of peaceful conditions in the province and, as referred to earlier in this section, the Chief Constable has stated the force's willingness and ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

In the wake of the ceasefires, the police have been making moves towards "demilitarisation" and it is important that this process be continued. However, this is unlikely, in itself, to lead to effective community policing. Firstly, as Brogden (1995:19) points out, the RUC cannot simply or quickly convert to community policing after more than 25 years of primarily paramilitary style policing. Secondly, the problem of the distancing of the police from the communities which they are policing was referred to by a number of respondents, both Catholic and Protestant The most effective community policing would be that carried out by officers indigenous to the communities they are policing. Here again, Brogden's proposals have an obvious attraction.

In the absence of such a drastic restructuring, we would suggest that a substantial retraining programme will be required, involving, among other things, a further extension of the human/community awareness training for new recruits, first introduced by the RUC in 1991, and subsequently developed into a Community Awareness Programme in partnership with the Mediation Network. This should involve not only extending the programme to all officers, but should also include a significant input from local communities themselves. Furthermore, if there is a policy, as suggested in the east Belfast study and in interviews with RUC management, of handpicking community police officers, then it needs to be further developed.

We would urge, therefore, that the "demilitarisation" of policing needs to be developed as quickly as is practically possible, that there should be a substantial retraining programme to equip police officers for a significantly changed role, and that any policy of careful selection of community police officers should be further developed. This might also involve, initially at least, the concentration of Catholic officers in nationalist areas.


In a recent quantitative study, some 50 per cent of young Catholics and 12 per cent of young Protestants reported experiencing harassment by the police or the army at some time (McVeigh, 1994). It is true that the study identified the problems of defining harassment - problems also pointed out by several of our respondents - and ultimately settled for self-definitions (which was similar to the approach adopted by the Metropolitan Police in dealing with racism). In any event, whatever problems there may be in arriving at an agreed definition, the figures, and particularly the religious imbalance, are disturbing. Our studies also suggest that there is a strong perception of harassment among young people, particularly although by no means exclusively, among young Catholics. Insofar as these perceptions may be justified, the solution lies in part in some of our earlier suggestions; relating to recruitment, training and the establishment of a complaints procedure widely recognised as being fair and effective. However, there is one particular aspect which we would suggest needs to be dealt with more directly. It was clear, particularly from the Derry study, that the use of emergency legislation was, in itself, widely perceived as harassment, not only of individuals but also of whole communities.

We would, therefore, strongly recommend the government to move rapidly in repealing much of the existing emergency legislation, on the grounds discussed above, as well as on the ground of human rights concerns. The case for such action has, of course, been strengthened by the ceasefires.


There was a strong sense, again by no means restricted to the Catholic communities, that the police were not sufficiently accountable to the community. At one level this clearly requires that the police service should be more genuinely accountable to the Police Authority. This is particularly important in determining policies in areas such as security and public order policing, which, as we have seen, can have such an impact on police/community relations. We would argue that this position is not incompatible with maintaining the operational independence of the police.

We strongly support the view that the relationships between the Chief Constable and the Police Authority be clearly defined and that, in particular, PANI be provided with statutory mechanisms to ensure that its views - in its role as representing the community - are properly taken on board by the police service and reflected in both planning and practices. We would also urge the government to devolve, as soon as practically possible, responsibility for policing in Northern Ireland to some locally accountable, agreed political institution.

At a local level it is important that the Community and Police Liaison Committees be strengthened. Obviously, this would be partially achieved by a political settlement which led to nationalist politicians feeling able to participate in those committees. However, other problems would remain. As demonstrated by Protestant residents in the Derry study, people felt that, even with local political representatives participating in these committees, they really had no mechanism to ensure that their feelings about the policing of their area were listened to. Representatives have no statutory right to demand an answer from the police, or to play any real part in decision making. While the RUC has stated it would welcome a strengthening of the CPLCs, and in particular an improvement in the representation on these Committees, it would argue that not only would statutory rights to demand answers be undesirable, but they could, indeed, be counter-productive in destroying the essence of cooperation. However, it does seem clear from these studies that some mechanisms need to be devised to attend to the concerns of the communities.

We recommend, therefore, that urgent attention be given to the strengthening of the Community and Police Liaison Committees: by broadening their membership to include more representation from local communities alongside the elected representatives, who may in fact have only superficial contact with many of the communities; by the implementation of mechanisms to give community representatives a greater say in setting the agendas for these Committees; and by ensuring that their views are given proper consideration in the development of policing priorities, policies and strategies at local level.

The various studies have, we believe, highlighted both the complexities of the issues surrounding the development of broadly acceptable policing structures in Northern Ireland, and the importance of achieving solutions to the often complex and inter-related problems. The ceasefires have reinforced the need to search for such solutions, and have created an environment which is probably more conducive than at any time in the last twenty five years to achieving significant reforms. It is vitally important that the opportunity should not be allowed to slip away.

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