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Radio Interview with Barry Cowan and the Chief Constable Sir Hugh Annesley on Sunday 14 July 1996



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Radio Interview with the Chief Constable Sir Hugh Annesley on Sunday 14 July 1996

Below is the full text of the interview which took place on the BBC Radio 7 Days Programme, with Barry Cowan and the Chief Constable Sir Hugh Annesley on Sunday 14 July 1996

Barry Cowan (BC)
Chief Constable what is your reaction to the Enniskillen Bomb.

Chief Constable (CC)
It's a bit early to make any assessment of the bomb at Killyhevlin. It has had, I understand, an initial claim of responsibility. I'm not immediately satisfied about that claim and I wouldn't attribute it, at this stage, to any organisation but its an evil, cowardly and wanton attack and as usual the victims were the innocent people in the hotel.By any standard the bomb going off in Northern Ireland does not auger well for the future. I did say at my recent press conference that a bomb was possible but I would not as yet attribute this to the Provisional IRA.

What I would do is to say to the Loyalist command group that their ceasefires have been commendable by their restraint. They have been pushed right to the very edge on a number of occasions particularly with the attacks in London and I do hope they will keeptheir ceasefire in being and withall the conviction I can muster Iwould ask them to do so. The consequence of not doing so would be to return us all to the hell whence we came.

BC
But one has to be realistic, bombing has returned to Northern Ireland,that cannot be by any stretch of the imagination anything but a bad sign?

CC
It is a bad sign, there is no question that it is a bad sign, the real key is 'Who placed it?' and the on-going assessment from that will depend on which group it was. There have been other attempts to bomb Northern Ireland during the course of the ceasefire, predominantly by republican Sinn Fein, so at this moment I am keeping an open mind. If this bomb, as the day goes on and our investigations continue, is clearly on behalf of the provisional IRA then it is a very serious development of the situation. But then they broke their ceasefire at Canary Wharf and you've seen the consequences since at Aldwich and Manchester and it was always the potential that bombs would return to Northern Ireland. So of course yes it is a very serious situation.

BC
To what extent do you accept your responsibility for the violence of the last seven days, because it has been laid very firmly at your door. Not just by those on the extremes but by those who would be deemed to be the moderates in Northern Ireland at the moment?

CC
Well there's a real truisim that whenever things go wrong, people who might have done more, look for somebody else to blame. But blame for the violence does not lie on me as an individual, it does not lie on my force. The random, unprecedented and disgraceful violence lies on those who carried it out. The failure and the violence at Drumcree lies squarely on the shoulders of the Portadown Orange Lodge and on the Garvaghy Road residents coalition who between them had over one year to sort out whether or not a march could go down a short stretch of road. You cannot heap that odium on the RUC whatever the circumstances.

BC
But there were two bad decisions.

CC
There were no bad decisions in my view. Both decisions were perfectly capable and stand rational examination by anybody.

BC
OK. Lets take the first decision to stop the Orange march. Now there are those who would say that by taking that decision you lacked foresight. In other words you could not see what was inevitably going to happen.

CC
Well everybody who now looks at this incident has the great gift of hindsight. I have to tell you I don't have it, I wish I did. The first desision was made on very clear grounds. It was, that there was clear and anticipated disorder within the Garvaghy Road and Brendan McKenna had made it clear that the residents would strongly oppose any march.

BC
Why not then deal with Garvaghy Road? If Garvaghy Road was going to be the problem why not deal with that as a police force.

CC
That's what I want to get to. The second point was that it would not have been restricted to the Garvaghy Road because we did have intelligence that if the march was prevented going down the Garvaghy Road other nationalists groups would come to Garvaghy Road to attempt to give support to McKenna and his colleagues. The end result of that was that if we had had to take a march down the road and fight every inch of it with truncheons, with baton rounds and with significant disorder, the nationalist violence that we have seen this weekend could very well have erupted last weekend. The other issue very clearly is there was an alternative and uncontentious route available to the Orange lodge from Portadown. They could have taken it. They didn't take it.

And the final point was that a lawful notice was served on the Orange Order. They could and should have obeyed that notice. They talk frequently about being part of the United Kingdom, fighting for the United Kingdom. If they want to do that they have to take on board the cohesion and support for law that exists everywhere else in the United Kingdom.

BC
Didn't you, though, have to take into account when you made that decision the incipient anger within the loyalist community that was bound to boil over whether it be at Drumcree or anywhere else? There was a growing anger in the loyalist community that this drawing lines in the sand was saying thus far and no farther. Did you take that into account?

CC
But what lines were being drawn in particular relationship to the Garvaghy Road? We had altered on a continuous basis a large number of parades both republican and Orange where it was felt it was inappropriate to let them march. The decision here was based on public order, on security and on assessment grounds were reasonable then, they are reasonable now. They stand up to detailed examination and you cannot turn round and say that incipient anger about the potential developments in the political process entitle any one particular lodge to rampage and bring law and order to a complete standstill. That is utterly unacceptable.

BC
What about the political process because there are those who believe two things. First of all that you are influenced by the Northern Ireland Office and by the secretary of state in taking that decision. There are those who also say you were playing a kind of share for share game that we gave you Whiterock so we will take away lower Ormeau. We'll give you Garvaghy but we will not allow you so and so. What do you say about that because clearly those two principles have caused the most major rift in Anglo Irish relations overthe last 25 years? You're in a position to clear it up.

CC
Let me make it quite clear. There was no political interference with me either at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end. There was no interference with me from the Northern Ireland Office, from the prime minister and from Dublin. It has been put to me over seven years frequently by unionist politicians that Maryfield have somehow or other had an input into my decisions. They have not. They do not. They could not. And as long as I breath they would not. That allegation that there was political interference is unadulterated rubbish.

BC
Do you talk to southern politicians? Do you talk to southern civil servants in terms of the day to day operation of the RUC?

CC
Never. What I do is I go from time to time to the intergovernmental conference and in the restricted security session, the Commissioner and myself, Sir Patrick Mayhew and his opposite number talk about the security implications. Then we go into a plenary session and if anybody wants to ask me a reasonable question about what's going on, I answer it. But I have never had without exception any conversation with a southern politician or a southern civil servant about any matter whatsoever respecting the policing of Northern Ireland.

BC
But in the margins of those meetings you would have to be made aware of what their views are and be influenced by them.

CC
Well from time to time, their interests are perfectly clear such as going back to closed border roads or to accompaniment. I always stood my ground on those. I made it clear they were necessary, they were operational decisions, operational recommendations to the secretary of state. And I really do want to take the opportunity of your programme to burst this ridiculous bubble that we are being conditioned, manipulated or influenced by the Republic of Ireland in any shape or form. That is a manifest nonsense.

BC
Before we talk about the second decision, there is one other point which I think bemuses quite a number of people and that is why you permitted the build-up of Orangemen there when it lay within your power to stop those thousands of Orangemen assembling at Drumcree. Why did you allow them to assemble and represent the potential threat that almost boiled over.

CC
There are about eight open entrances to Portadown. There are plenty of entrances to Portadown through fields and through areas within housing estates. We could have pushed out a police operation running some five or six miles down the motorway and elsewhere. We could have stopped coaches there in which case, they would have immediately stopped on the hard shoulder and the people would have got out and walked as they did in the past and the experience of earlier demonstrations in 1985 clearly indicated that. The other point is you cannot have one police car stopping a coach with 45 or 50 determined individuals especially if they have been drinking. So we could have found ourselves with a proliferation of seats of disorder well before Portadown in which case our police numbers would have been dissipated and we would then have been incapbale of holding Portadown. It is very important to remember, you see, at the same time, we had other massive priorities. The first was to protect the interfaces between Catholic and Protestant in Belfast. The second one was to try and keep the main roads open whilst every small road could not be kept open. And the third one, after one hiatus, was to make sure that the ports and the airport were kept open. You see in any assessment of what might have been open to the Portadown Orange Lodge to express their protest about the decision, nothing but nothing could justify bringing this province to a standstill with the burning, the violence, the attacks on ordinary members of the public. And their stance should have been condemned roundly by politicians, constitutional politicians and the public that they should have obeyed the rule of law. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot talk about being part of the United Kingdom and then fail to comply with one of the elementary behavioural stances of everybody else in the UK.

BC
But there is one elementary stance which does require examination by you and by the RUC and that is the degree to which you acquiesced with mob rule, because that's what happened at Drumcree?

CC
I am very happy to come to that. You may use the term mob rule. I will say that I accept that the rule of law has had a set-back at Drumcree. The rule of law has had a set-back. I prefer if you would forgive me to use my words. The rule of law has consistently had a set-back. It's had set-backs in Dublin. It's had set-backs in England. It's had set- backs in France and in Germany. And there is one key golden public order rule and that is a number of people if you get enough of them, can in the short term overrun a normal policing operation. Five thousand pickets at Hudfields in the steel strike. You can't do anything with them. The race disorders in Brixton and in St Paul's. The police had to withdraw initially. The British Embassy was burned down in Dublin, no criticism of my Garda colleagues, the resources were not there to deal with it. We have seen over and over again how French farmers can burn the auto-routes between Paris and Lyon and elsewhere. But it is a short- term issue and what must be a long-term acceptance is that if there is a rule of law, it must be accepted by the Orangemen the same as everybody else. Otherwise there is no long-term future for law and order in this province.

BC
But it must be enforced by the RUC and that is what the RUC did not do at Drumcree. They backed off.

CC
Ever since policing was formed, you police by consent. The consent to comply with the rule of law did not exist with the Portadown Orange Lodge. They were not encouraged to do so by constitutional politicians and they should have done. If there was another situation with those sort of numbers and they become uncontrollable, the police eventually are in a position, do they withdraw temporarily, or do they find themselves in a position of the potential loss of life. Now unlike some of my colleagues. I do have direct experience of this. I was in charge in Trafalgar Square in 1981 when a fire brigade caused a crowd surge leading to two people trampled to death and hundreds of injuries. That was totally accidental but when a crowd begins to move and I am talking about the same numbers, sixty to seventy thousand, they are not going to be stopped.

And if I may come to the second decision, if you are finished with the first one.

BC
Can I just ask one thing before we get to that, Chief Constable, is it true you were advised by senior officers on the ground that the only way that that Orange procession could be stopped was with the use of live ammunition?

CC
No. There was no question of that occurring on the ground. I will say quite openly that I had a decision in my office with the general officer commanding and I made it clear in the course of that interview with him that there was no issue of using live rounds. You simply do not contemplate using live rounds on a public order crowd in the United Kingdom. It is not acceptable. It is not done. I would never have done it and I would not have risked one life if I had to trade that off against the potential overrun of the rule of law in the short term.

BC
When did you decide on the U-turn, if U-turn it was?

CC
Anybody can put what word they apply to it. Can I say this. I found it one of the most difficult decisions of my professional career. Looking at it now with hindsight I have to say that if I was facing the situation where I had half a dozen dead I would feel particularly different about it. I was faced with a serious and deteriorating public order situation, not only in Drumcree where we might have anticipated some protest but across the province. My resources were stretched. That's no secret. I expected large and growing crowds with significant hostile elements and in this I will say that the Portadown Orange Order had that site for the most part well behaved and well marshalled. But the gougers and the hoods got in as well and everybody knows that. I believe that there was the potential that other Orange Order parades would be diverted to that site. There had been an earlier attempt I believe it was on the 9th to breach the wire. That was repaired. We then became aware of the existence of a bulldozer, a slurry tanker with potential of JCBs to come. There had been a failure to get any accommodation between July last year and July this year between the two sides. Neither side would give an inch. The four church leaders despite their sterling efforts also failed and I was left in the position that if on the 11th night with a significant amount of alcohol consumed other Orange marches were invited to come to Drumcree, the police would have faced a situation where a crowd of some sixty to seventy thousand would have approached and overrun that wire leaving only one alternative and that was to withdraw to attempt to protect the Garvaghy Road estate. If that had occurred and blood was up and alcohol was prominent, the potential accidentally or otherwise to hit the first nationalist house which was probably 300 yards away was obvious. And as I say I have personal experience of this done by accident not on purpose. And people have to remember, this was not a picnic. This was a potentially violent and disorderly crowd who were intent on making their protest and we did not and could not, even with 3,000 policemen and soldiers, have contained that. That is why some papers have spoken about the question of live firearms. I have not and would not and never contemplated issuing the order to fire on a crowd in the United Kingdom. It had to be a back-off situation. And as I talk to you now even after the week of perhaps soul searching and reflecting on all of this, I would not have traded one life for the Garvaghy Road. If the rule of law had to be turned back in the short term so be it. But that patch of road is not worth one human life.

BC
Chief Constable I hear what you are saying to me and I have no reason to doubt your sincerity but what are others saying. They are saying that by tradition that it's always easier for the RUC to batter the Taigs than the Prods and that is an interpretation that has gained widespread acceptance since the stand-off at Drumcree.

CC
I have no quarrel with the fact that the nationalist community feel unhappy about this. I feel unhappy about it. My force feels unhappy about it. And what has happened there is an outrageous attempt by one side to impose their will on the other by the sheer weight of force and in the short term the RUC failed to be able to deliver the alternative. I approached that march as I've done everything else. It was to be impartial, to be reasonable and to be fair and in seven years I have never made a decision in the force which was not based on impartiality. We have lost ground with the nationalist community. I bitterly regret that. I hope that people in the nationalist community listening to this programme will realise just how hard we tried to fairly deliver a situation. But the blame, the blame lies on those who would not agree. The blame lies in the manipulation of parts of the public order scene by paramilitary elements and we are now in a situation that if we are not to have Drumcree, Mark Three in 1997, there has got to be a solution in which my colleagues are out of it. I said on the television, I'm sick to death of it and so are my colleagues. We cannot win. We are always blamed and many of the people who could and should have done something to broker an agreement are sitting on the sidelines sniping at me. Well I reject it.

BC
Sir Hugh as you said, perceptions are all and television pictures are notoriously selective. But there is an image abroad that the RUC dealt with the protestors in Garvaghy with a great deal more relish and I use the word advisedly, relish, than they appeared to want to deal with and confront the Orangemen.

CC
The officers confronting the Orangemen last year and this year determinedly and robustly faced them in accordance with the rule of law. Dozens of plastic bullets were fired, arrests were made and there was no (lack of) determination on behalf of my officers to fulfil the rule of law despite the most insidious, despicable and disgusting threats to them in the front line and their wives and families would be got at.

People who talk about their rights should remember their responsibilities and members of the Orange Order have got no right to threaten my people, none whatsoever. Despite those threats, my officers held that line. When they moved in to move down the Garvaghy Road, I gave that direction. I said it was to be done effectively and peacefully as possible. I ask you to consider and your viewers to consider that when that order had been given and had become known by about 12 noon, it is remarkable that as the march began to go down the road a very short period afterwards, there was already ready a large number of petrol bombs to fire at my officers. There was one scene where it appears that a policeman was hitting a demonstrator with a truncheon. That is so. What is not clear is that it was a police inspector under the demonstrator. We do not want confrontation. Nobody wants confrontation. There are no winners in violence. And I had implored to leaders in the church and others to say could you please ask the Garvaghy Road residents to understand the position we're in and ask them not to get involved in violence. Any may I say I personally as far back as January of this year, met McKenna and his team and tried to negotiate a compromise. My Deputy Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan has done it with both sides and with the Orange Order ever since. I had meetings in this office with senior members of the Orange Order on the first of July. Many of your listeners may not know that there was also an alternative route offered that brought the Orange parade a quarter of the way down the Garvaghy Road where it turned in and went back to the original route. They did not want to know. They had set their heart on a confrontation. There was also paramilitary manipulation on the Orange side as well, if you get two groups who will not give an inch then the RUC haven't got a magic wand. I can say to you, we were within a whisker of an accommodation and I believe that accommodation was frustrated by paramilitary elements.

BC
To what extent in your dealings with them and in the intelligence work that the RUC does, are we to accept these concerned residents as genuine groups or fronts for paramilitary organisations.

CC
There is significant paramilitary involvement in the Ormeau Road and in the Garvaghy Road. The public order situation has been specifically manipulated by the Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein and by loyalist paramilitaries. At the same time, I do not and would never suggest that the Garvaghy Road consists of people who are republicans and who are against the police and law and order. That is not so. There is a very large number of decent people there who object to these marches. And I have to remind you and your listeners of the scenes in the aftermath of the agreed solution last year - and let me stress again - there was an agreed accommodation between the Orange Lodge and between the Garvaghy Road residents. Each side stuck to it honestly and completely in accordance with that agreement. When that march finally got back into Portadown, there were scenes of Messrs Paisley and Trimble in circumstances which the Garvaghy Road and subsequently the Ormeau Road described as triumphalist. And that had a significant and deep bearing on the failure of the Garvaghy Road residents to move an inch throughout this entire year.

BC
One final question. Are you considering your own position as has been suggested by a number of politicians. They have said you must go.

CC
Good heavens no. I made an honest, professional and proper decision with the entire support of my two Deputy Chief Constables and the overwhelming number of my Assistant Chief Constables. When we got to the position that it could not be sustained, I changed it.

The handling of public order is a pragmatic operational matter that moves on an hour-by-hour and day-by-day basis. For anybody to say that they would not change their minds because they would do a U- turn is a pompous fool. The only answer was when the circumstances changed was to reassess the situation. I do not regret the earlier decision and I do not regret the second decision, which I regard I have to say as one of the most difficult I have made, but I am glad that it was made with courage if I may say so myself with support from those around me and with the moral judgement that the Garvaghy Road was not worth a life.


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