Continuity RUC - Ten Years On

Tonight The Pensive Quill features guest writer Sean Matthews, sharing his view on the PSNI.

This year marks the ten year anniversary of the Continuity RUC/PSNI with former Chief Constable Hugh Orde once referring to the force as the ‘most democratic, accountable police service in the world.’ However, despite the cosmetic changes and window dressing the reality on the ground in working class communities is in stark contrast to the propaganda media blitz waged by the status-quo.

Since 2001, we have witnessed the devolving of policing and justice powers to the Stormont executive under David Ford, Alliance MLA, the ending of the controversial 50/50 recruitment policy with Catholics now making up for around a third of the total police force; the establishment of a new MI5 headquarters at Hollywood which is effectively the central intelligence agency for the North. In recent months we have witnessed the independence of the Police Ombudsman, Al Hutchinson surrounding the mishandling of sensitive and confidential information into historical enquiries such as collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces. As a result he will now resign ahead of schedule.

In November, the PSNI backtracked after publicly announcing their intention to arrest human rights lawyer and defender of republican suspects Peter Corrigan, over spurious charges which according to the Irish Law and Democracy Committee were ’a serious threat to human rights culture…. an act of blatant intimidation against defence lawyers per se, who are an integral part of the checks and balances against state abuse of power by those such as the police.’ This is just part of a general pattern emerging under the guise of ‘combating the dissident threat’ which has been covered by the WSM in recent months. From the continuing use of child informants to the closing down of a face book site exposing police harassment, stop and search operation against the RNU in which children as young as 5 were subjected up to four hours of detention to widespread systematic use of stop and search powers. Solid support from unionist political parties for the forces of 'law and order' also hides their failure to deliver on the ground masking a significant level of mistrust and disillusionment within protestant working class communities.

Police complaints are on the rise up 11% since last year with young males the most likely age group to make a complaint. The Police Ombudsman office has received 16,000 complaints in the last five years. Almost 50% of these were from men under the age of 45. Just over a quarter of complainants said that they had a disability and 11% were not born in Northern Ireland.

The de-deployment of up to 400 former RUC officers through employment agencies into the ranks of the PSNI including the already 4,331 PSNI officers which have also been RUC officers represents 60% of the PSNI. The retention and systematic use of anti-terror legislation and lethal weapons such as plastic bullets to criminalise and crush any opposition bears all the hallmarks of a police force fit for purpose in the 21st century as efficient guardians of the status-quo.

 The District Policing Partnerships (DPPs) have been a central pillar in this ’normalisation’ strategy and were set up by the Policing Board in conjunction with local councils in early 2003 as part of the ‘new policing dispensation’ under the Patton agreement in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement. Along with the establishment of an ‘independent’ police ombudsman and a policing board to scrutinise the actions of the Chief Constable, a DPP:

Is a meaningful partnership between the district council, councillors and representatives of the local community for the purpose of monitoring the effectiveness of policing in that area. Also, the DPP will act as a forum for discussion and consultation on matters affecting the policing of the district, which it is responsible for. This will include, for example, the prioritisation of policing issues on behalf of local people.

In short, DPPs are an attempt by the state and its agencies to build co-operation and strengthens its foothold in working-class communities particularly of a nationalist/republican persuasion who have been in direct conflict, and on the receiving end of state violence. These policing developments in terms of the wider ‘political stability’ and restoration of local political institutions at Stormont; eventual active participation of Sinn Fein and others in these structures have provided an illusion of state ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’ and the green light to isolate and criminalise any ‘dissenters.’

They are a ‘talking shop’ with no legislative authority and designed to gloss over the inherent irreconcilable cracks and contradictions in the system. Rather than real ownership and empowerment, input by local residents in DPPs is limited to asking questions as a spectator, reinforcing our sense of dependency, powerlessness the division between the ruled and rulers; workers and bosses.

For example, Section 5.12 of its own Code of Conduct gives the District Policing Commander the power to refuse to answer any questions during a public meeting on the wide scope of ‘national security’ which basically translates into British ruling class interests. How many imperialist wars of plunder or recent curtailment of long-standing civil liberties including internment without trial have been justified in the interests of ‘national security’?

A mere reflection of our class based capitalist society in which we are allowed to pick a ruler every 4 years. Doing what the state does best- co-opting and pacifying dissent along reformist and harmless channels that would otherwise be expressed in militant opposition on the streets which we witnessed in other parts of the UK in August this year triggered by a police murder.


  1. Are the police in NI really any worse than in any other western democracy ? Republicans talk a lot but never offer a viable alternative.A united Ireland bullied by Tim Geithner and the Germans perhaps!!

  2. Sean wouldnt you think that an issue as contentious as policing,given the sectarian nature of it here over the years,that the brits would made a greater effort in making sure that Patten was fully implemented here and that policing could never be an armed section of one side of the community,because the sdlp have no clout and qsf have totally rolled over shouldnt allow the hardliners within unionism to dictate and call the shots re policing the fact that over 60% of the ruc remain in action tell me that this is the case. that qsf members on policing boards make the odd demand for more clarity and openness to no real effect shows how little other than a light glosswork over the same old system shows how badly the brits have got this issue wrong and imo we are no where near a new beginning more of same old same old..

  3. Sean,

    as ever you provide clarity and food for thought. Proof that some things change in order to remain the same

  4. Try telling the hundreds of people who lost their homes/businesses/jobs, plus relatives of the three men murdered whilst protecting their businesses from looters, that the riots were all about 'militant opposition'.

  5. From Sean Matttthews:

    No James, the incidents you mention took place and is both unfortunate and tragic but the fact is the police murder of an unarmed black man was the match which lit the fire. The Guardian newspapers recent comprehensive study on 'reading the riots'( is the only attempt to understand the causes and consequences of the riots rather than the simplistic 'hang them flog them type' nonsense from the right wing gutter press. Enough said.