Guest writer, former republican prisoner Risteard Pádraic Ó Murchú, with a history of policing in Ireland which he had completed writing in November 2013. Just prior to becoming a political prisoner for the third time Alec McCrory asked TPQ to feature this piece.
British Political Policing in Ireland has been around now for well over 200 years. Throughout the last two centuries and right up to the present day Irish citizens have been subjected to a ‘British Police State’ in which the British Government has exercised colonial and repressive controls over the social, economic, and political life of the people of Ireland.
Early Policing in Ireland
Some of the earliest forms of policing in Irish towns and cities were maintained by Night Watchmen, parish constables and the British Army. The Night Watchmen had protected Ireland's Norman towns and cities from about the 14th century. Between 1723 and 1785, ‘The Civil Patrol Men’ (nicknamed the "Charlies") formed as armed constables to patrol Dublin City. In the rural areas of Ireland numerous units of militia were locally raised in towns to augment and gradually replace the garrisoned regiments of regular army. The militia units included: Athlone Rangers, Kilkenny Rangers, Naas Light Dragoons, Shinrone Volunteers, Tullamore Rangers etc. The militia served as an auxiliary military force and also performed routine police duties.
The Night Watchmen and Militias came under the control of local magistrates, and apart from ‘normal policing duties’ they enforced the Penal Laws during the time of the "Protestant Ascendancy" which set out to ‘punish’ all members of the catholic religion, one magistrate in Roscommon wrote, ‘We shall never be safe till a wolf’s head and a priest’s head be at the same rate.’
The Dublin Police Act 1786 was established to bring policing in Ireland under a more organised system. In 1787, the Baronial Police ("Old Barneys") was created to police the remainder of Ireland. All appointees had to be Protestants. The armed police and watchmen of the Dublin Police were replaced by an unarmed police force in 1795. The Baronial Police was an undisciplined force without a set uniform, dealing only with minor incidents. They relied on the British Army to suppress serious disturbances, such as the 1798 Rebellion and attacks and raids by Secret Societies, even after the creation of the "Old Barneys" many rural towns retained their own police forces or Watch system.
The Rise of the Peelers
In 1813 British MP and future British Prime Minister Robert Peel (Chief Secretary in Dublin) introduced the Peace Preservation Act, which allowed for a chief magistrate and a troop of armed men to travel to any part of Ireland to control areas in a "state of disturbance" in order to restore peace. Peel had been one of the most outspoken opponents of Catholic Emancipation (earning the nickname "Orange Peel"). In 1814 he set up the Peace Preservation Force (later to become known as the Peelers). Without set uniforms the PPF, many of whom were ex-soldiers after returning from the Napoleonic Wars, donned the uniforms of their former military units while performing their policing duties. This practice of wearing their military uniforms for policing duties continued until 1828 when a standard uniform was issued to the County Constabulary.
In 1822 the Constabulary Act was passed and a system of county constabularies under a single police force had been established, allowing for a more structured British police force in Ireland. Each area of the country was under the control of the head of British administration in Ireland, Dublin Castle and had a rank structure in place with a Chief Constable at the head of each regional force. Policing the collection of tithes during the Tithe War, 1831-1836, was one of the responsibilities of the new force. Tithes were due to the Protestant Anglican church and were collected from the mainly Catholic population, many of whom were living in very poor conditions, often under the threat of eviction from their tyrannical landlords.
The Constabulary (Ireland) Act, 1836, was introduced by Thomas Drummond, Under Secretary for Ireland. It centralised the police forces (with about 5,000 men) under the direct control of an Inspector-General in Dublin Castle with a set of standard regulations and became known as the 'The Constabulary of Ireland'. Members served under a strict code, which governed all aspects of their lives, on and off duty. Elaborate precautions were taken at all times. Policemen who lived in barracks, were prohibited from serving in their (or their wives’) native areas. A year later the first "Irish Constabulary Code" was published with a comprehensive code of discipline and regulations and decreed that the standard colour of the uniform would be rifle green. The Constabulary of Ireland carried out a full range of tasks, including facilitating evictions for the absentee landlords, but it’s most important task was that of security, due to the ever-present threat of nationalist rebellion. Due to this it was organised as a colonial constabulary and as an armed, paramilitary force, rather than along the lines of other conventional police forces in Britain.
The Constabulary of Ireland held jurisdiction over the entire country with the exception of the cities of Dublin, Belfast and Derry. In Dublin the force was called the Dublin Metropolitan Police. In Belfast they were called The Belfast Police (nicknamed the "Bulkies") 1816-1865; formed to patrol Belfast City. They were disbanded and replaced by the Irish Constabulary following serious riots in the city usually as a result of Orange Marches. In Derry they were The Derry Police (nicknamed the "Horny Dicks" because of the bone reinforcements in their top hats) ~1816-1870; formed to patrol Derry City. They were disbanded and replaced by the Royal Irish Constabulary after rioting when Apprentice Boys were killed.
Republicanism was beginning to reorganise around the 1840s which led to the Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848. The Irish Constabulary was used to suppress it, and this was during height of An Gorta Mór. Around 70% of the Irish Constabulary were Catholics, like their neighbours, and this often led to confrontations between them. The 1850s and 60s gave rise to Fenian period where Republicans were planning a Rebellion in 1867. With spies and informers at the ready within the local communities, which were developed by the Constabulary, this led to the infiltration of the IRB. Queen Victoria was so impressed with the performance of the Constabulary during this last rebellion that, in 1868, she issued them with a royal charter and, from then on, they became known as the Royal Irish Constabulary.
The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), was Britain’s colonial police force in Ireland. It was a heavily armed paramilitary organisation quartered in over 1,600 fortified bases or stations throughout the island of Ireland, enforcing British rule and British laws in the country. As well as infantry training and tactics drawn from the British Armed Forces it was equipped with the best of weapons, modern rifles and handguns, motorcars and lorries, telephones and telegraph systems, at a time when such things were not available to the wider population.
The RICs main purpose was fighting a constant counter-insurgency struggle against Irish Republicanism and Nationalism. As a consequence of this war against the democratic wishes or aspirations of the Irish people the RIC maintained a vast network of paid spies and informers throughout Irish society. Dublin Castle, the formal seat of British colonial rule for centuries, was regarded as the spider at the centre of the RIC web that stretched across the entire island of Ireland, one that was feared, loathed and hated. Throughout Ireland and especially during the Land War, 1879-1882, thousands of Irish families were evicted from their homes by the RIC as their land was seized by mostly absentee British colonial landlords.
By 1900 the R.I.C. had about 11,000 men (70% of whom were Catholic) and about 17% were Irish speakers. Republicanism was beginning to reorganise at this time which saw the founding of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army alongside the IRB which culminated in the 1916 Easter Rising. After the Leaders of the Rising were executed public opinion turned dramatically which saw a landslide victory for Republicans in the 1918 General Election who then in January 1919 set up Dail Eireann. Dail Eireann was declared illegal by the British Government and the RIC began an intensive campaign of harassment and arrests. With public support behind them the IRA waged an intensive guerrilla war that began with the Soloheadbeg ambush of two RIC men.
By the end of May 1920, 351 evacuated RIC barracks were destroyed, 105 damaged, 15 occupied barracks were destroyed and 25 damaged, 19 Coastguard stations and lighthouses were raided for explosives and signalling equipment, 66 RIC and 5 British Soldiers were killed. With the general public against them and men resigning at a rate of 200 per month from a force of 9,500 the RIC were under massive pressure. To reinforce the much reduced and demoralised RIC the British Government recruited returned World War I veterans from English and Scottish cities. They were sent to Ireland in 1920, to form a reserve unit which became known as the "Black and Tans".
The British Government decided that the Irish situation was a police problem and not one for the military, and so the decision was made to form auxiliary police units to bolster the RIC. A separate unit was formed under Brigadier General Frank Crozier, an ex-UVF member. Eventually 9,500 men had joined. Such was the influx of recruits from Britain that uniforms became scarce giving them the nickname "Black and Tans" from the colour of the improvised khaki uniforms they initially wore. The “Black and Tans” embarked on a reign of terror on the general public throughout Ireland by killing, torturing, burning and looting. Cork city, Ballbriggan and Lisburn were burned and looted by the “Tans,” summary executions of IRA suspects were common.
In 1920 the British Government sent a squad of men to Dublin to conduct an intelligence operation against the IRA. These men were trained by British intelligence and worked as members of the RIC’s Intelligence Branch. This group became known as the Cairo Gang or the Murder Gang. In November 1920 after the IRA had executed 14 of these from Dublin Castle the Black and Tans entered Croke Park, Dublin and opened fire indiscriminately on the crowd who were watching a football match killing 12 people. Britain’s war in Ireland was intensified. In Belfast another Murder Gang known as the Cromwell Gang, targeted Republicans. This murder squad was under the direction of first, C.I. Harrison, and then D.I. Nixon. They were involved in the brutal murder of Republicans in their homes. They were also involved in some of the worst atrocities at the time like the murder of the McMahon family and the Arnon Street Massacre.
A Protestant Police for a Protestant State
In the spring of 1920 a small number of Loyalist leaders, including Colonel Crawford, who had organised the UVF Larne Gun-Running in 1914, began to organise armed groups of Loyalist vigilantes. Edward Carson began to reorganise the UVF. At a time of serious rioting and anti-Catholic pogroms following the Orange marches of July 1920 the British Government decided to raise a local militia in the north. More and more ex-UVF units began drilling in the summer of 1920, and finally, in October the British Government formed the Ulster Special Constabulary. Ex-UVF members enrolled in large numbers. Many of the B-Special Commanders had been UVF organisers in the same area.
The USC was divided into three groups: the A-Specials, who were full time and were used to reinforce the RIC; the B-Specials, who were fully armed but part-time and were used for local patrol duty; and the C-Specials, who had no regular duties but could be quickly mobilised. At the end of 1921 the six county Unionist government assumed control over the Specials, and saw in them as the ideal Loyalist force to defend the new state. By June 1922 the USC was about 50,000 strong. The Specials were kept mobilised to patrol the border.
After the ceasefire in July 1921 which gave way to negotiations between the Irish and the British a treaty was signed, this brought about the Partitioning of Ireland. Following the partition of Ireland it was decided to disband the RIC as an all-Ireland police force. In southern Ireland a new police force, the Civic Guard later to become Garda Siochana was formed, while in the six counties of north east Ireland the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was formed on 1 June 1922 as Britain’s police force for the six counties. The RUC carried much over from the former force of RIC men (over 50% of the new force’s 3,000 strength comprised ex-RIC men), the same rank structure, uniform and terms and conditions of service.
In 1925, when the Boundary issue was settled with the Free State Government, the A and C-Specials were disbanded and the B-Specials were retained. Many of the A-Specials joined the RUC, which constituted about half of the RUC. In 1926 the firearms act was amended to enable most of the former C-Specials to keep their guns.
At the peak of sectarian Riots in 1922 the six county Unionist government introduced the Civil Authorities Act (The Special Powers Act). It was intended to last for one year, but it was renewed annually until 1928, then for a period of five years, and in 1933 it was made permanent. The Act allowed for internment without trial, enter and search homes without a warrant, declare a curfew, prohibition of public meetings, processions and organisations, permit punishment by flogging, arrest persons as witnesses, force them to answer questions, even if answers may incriminate them - such a person is guilty if he refuses to answer a question - prevent access of relatives or legal advisers to a person interned, prohibit the holding of an inquest after a prisoner’s death, the banning of literature (including newspapers). The Act also gave the six county Unionist minister the power to make further regulations, each with the force of a new law, without consulting parliament, and to delegate his powers to any policeman.
When James Craig, later Lord Craigavon, infamously coined the phrase that it was a "Protestant parliament for a Protestant people" it was clear that the draconian Special Powers Act was designed to do one thing, for a Unionist Government to torture and suppress the Nationalist People of the six counties. Throughout the 30s, 40s, and 50s the B-Specials remained one of the key weapons alongside the RUC in the armoury of the six county Unionist government. They were used to instil fear into the Nationalist People. The B-Specials were mobilised during the IRA’s Border Campaign because of their local knowledge of towns and villages in which they patrolled the border areas.
In the mid 1960s when the Civil Rights Movement began to demand reform of the sectarian bigoted Unionist Stormont government, the B-Specials were mobilised to suppress it. This culminated in the attack on a Civil Rights March in Derry in October 1968. Further attacks occurred in January in Burntollet. In April the RUC entered the Bogside, beating people in their homes. One man later died. Also attacks in Dungiven and Dungannon in August. The Order for the full mobilisation of the B-Specials at the height of events in Derry in August 1969 produced waves of panic amongst the Catholic population, and an increased determination to hold out behind their barricades. At Armagh on the night of August 14th the B-Specials fired into a crowd and killed a man. The Cameron Commission in September called them, ‘a partisan and paramilitary force’ and the Hunt Report on the RUC in October unequivocally proposed the disbandment of the Specials.
In Belfast in August 1969 Loyalist mobs facilitated and supported by the RUC and B-Specials attacked Nationalist areas. In the Falls area they attempted to burn down Clonard monastery only to be prevented by a small number of IRA Volunteers who also defended St Peters Cathedral from St Comgall’s School by Loyalist attack. The response of the RUC was to race into the Falls area in armoured cars firing heavy browning machineguns at the local civilian population, killing two people including a nine year old boy. In 1969 eight out of the first nine people were killed by the RUC/Specials. The north exploded and with the RUC and the B-Specials exhausted, the British Government sent the British Army onto the streets to relieve them.
In October 1969 after a long sectarian and brutal history the B-Specials were disbanded to make way for a new sectarian militia. In November the British Government produced a Bill to begin the process of establishing a new local part-time armed militia called the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). The UDR was formed on January 1st 1970 and many former Specials joined. Brit G.O.C. Ian Freeland sent a message to the Specials “You have done magnificently and will continue to do so up to the moment the force stands down. You have acted always, and will act to the last, as a loyal and disciplined force of patriotic Ulstermen” The UDR’s role was to support the British Army in protecting the border and the six county state, but the UDR like its predecessor became just another sectarian partisan force. After early attempts by constitutional Nationalist political parties to encourage Catholics to join, it was soon clear what the UDR were, with overlapping and dual membership with Loyalist groups and hundreds of UDR weapons ending up in Loyalist groups. 18 UDR members were convicted of murder and 11 for manslaughter. Between 1970 and 1985, 99 were convicted of assault, whilst others were convicted of armed robbery, weapons offences, bombings, intimidation and attacks on Catholics, kidnapping, and membership of the UVF.
Collusion with Loyalist Murder Gangs and ‘Shoot to Kill.'
In the six counties citizens are compelled under emergency legislation and at the point of British guns to provide details about themselves. The details relating to Nationalists and Republicans are computerised, filed and thousands of such files have been handed over to loyalist murder gangs by serving members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and British Army.
During the 1970s the RUC were involved in collusion with Loyalist death squads in the murder of Irish citizens. In one such example former British soldier Ginger Baker was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for killing 4 Catholics in the early 70s. Baker has consistently claimed that RUC members drove weapons through checkpoints, regularly gave RUC files to the UDA and tipped off loyalists to prevent the seizure of their weapons.
In the mid 1970s Britain decided to adapt a long-term war in Ireland in a three-part strategy in the six counties known as ‘Ulsterisation’, 'Criminalisation' and Normalisation. This was meant to avoid any acknowledgement of political motivation and nature of the war and was partly motivated to change perceptions of the war from a colonial war to that of a campaign against criminal gangs. It was also to disengage the non-Ulster regiments of the British Army as much as possible from the six counties and replace them with members of the locally recruited Royal Ulster Constabulary and Ulster Defence Regiment. The objective of this policy was to confine the war to the six counties.
During the 1970s The RUC were involved in the arrest and torture of Nationalists and Republicans in holding centres across the six counties. The torture included both mental and physical maltreatment. Physical methods included: beatings, attempted strangulation, pressure to sensitive points of the body, bending of limbs, prolonged standing or squatting in awkward positions, prolonged physical exercises, and burning with cigarettes. Mental pressures included: prolonged oppressive questioning by teams, threats of death and of imprisonment, and threats to the family of the suspect, stripping, and verbal abuse and humiliation.
Many of the tortures that took place referred to the Castlereagh Centre, Springfield Road RUC Station, Belfast; Cookstown, Coalisland, Dungannon, and Lurgan RUC Stations, also Strand Road RUC Station, Derry and Gough Barracks in Armagh.
In 1979 the RUC established an undercover unit known as E4A, which were trained by the SAS. This unit was to adopt a ‘shoot to kill’ policy in the six counties. In 1982 this unit killed six unarmed people in Armagh which sparked off the Stalker Inquiry. In a court case which followed, Britain’s Attorney General in the 6 counties, Sir Patrick Mayhew, had prevented prosecution arising out of the Stalker inquiry into shoot-to-kill by issuing Public Interest Immunity Certificates. During the 1970s the British Army took on the role of the RUC as being the primary group to patrol Nationalist areas, between 1973 and 1979 the RUC killed five people (two of them being British Army who were killed by mistake). When the RUC were introduced more into Nationalist areas from 1980 that statistic was to change dramatically. Between 1980 and 1986 the RUC killed 24 people.
In 1981 a British intelligence document (The Walker Report) claimed that RUC Special Branch was given control over policing and had impunity in its dirty war against Republicans. The leaked document was authored by Patrick Walker, reportedly then deputy head of MI5’s Belfast station and later MI5 Director General. This report confirms a high level policy that priority was to be given to RUC Special Branch over the rest of the RUC. It also claimed that records should be destroyed after operations and Special Branch should not distribute all information to Criminal Investigations Detectives (CID). It also confirms that CID should require permission from Special Branch before making arrests, or carrying out house searches in case agents were endangered. This policy protected agents and informers who were involved in killings. This can explain the high levels of collusion between Britain and Loyalist death squads in the murder of Irish citizens. If Special Branch was running the RUC then was MI5 running Special Branch?
There have been several inquiries into collusion and related matters which have had a substantive focus on covert policing, these include the Stevens inquiries, the Collusion Inquiry Reports by Judge Cory and the investigation reports by the Ombudsman into collusion by RUC Special Branch within an area of north Belfast (Operation Ballast). All of these exposed reoccurring practices. John Stevens led three inquiries over a fourteen year period into the collusion between the RUC and Loyalist murder gangs (only the summary of the third inquiry has been published). After the third inquiry Stevens reported that:
**My Enquiries have highlighted collusion, the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, and the extreme of agents being involved in murder. These serious acts and omissions have meant that people have been killed or seriously injured.
Not a single member of the RUC - the primary source for security and intelligence documents - was charged as a result of these Inquiries.
MI5 Takes The Lead on British Policing In Ireland
In April 1998 the Good Friday Agreement was signed by the political parties in Stormont and the Patten Report was introduced, this included the changing of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) name into the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). This report recommended that its principles should apply to all areas of policing including that of covert policing. This would have an independent police complaints (Ombudsman) and an independent police authority (Policing Board) as well as local council based District Policing Partnerships. This was supposed to ‘bring an end to the Nationalist nightmare’ and bring about a new era of policing. In 2005 the Historical Enquiries Team was established to investigate 3,269 unsolved killings. As part of the PSNI and answerable only to the PSNI Chief Constable, this investigative body is far from independent and just a continuation of the state investigating themselves.
In 2006 the St. Andrews Agreement was accepted by all the political parties in the six counties. Within this agreement the British Government set out “future national security arrangements for the six counties.” This effectively gave MI5 primacy over the intelligence of the PSNI from October 2007. This was to continue covert policing in the hands of the British and prevent any local scrutiny in the six counties. The PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde said that MI5 would only focus on Republicans and not Loyalists. Covert policing was now ring fenced outside any scrutiny that was promised in the Patten Report such as the Ombudsman, policing board and district policing partnerships. This move was to formalise the role of MI5 which was previously undeclared up until this point. MI5 has constructed an extensive regional headquarters building in Palace Barracks outside Belfast (known as Loughside) which is second only in capacity to its London headquarters located in Thames House. MI5 were now running the show and the PSNI would now play a subordinate role.
Covert Policing includes “interception, surveillance, informants and undercover operations.” The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 was passed in the House of Commons and has been amended with additions several times up to 2010. RIPA includes the interception of communications, the acquisition and disclosure of data relating to communications, the carrying out of surveillance, and the use of agents and informants. Human Rights and Privacy Groups have been very critical of RIPA. These powers can be carried out by MI5 and the PSNI under the authorisation of the British Secretary of State which can both be written or verbal. They can also be used in the interests of ‘National Security’ which means no-one in the six counties can have any accountability over its use.
In 2010 Policing and Justice Powers were devolved to Stormont but it is clear that “National Security Powers” are in fact retained and controlled by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO). In 2011 it emerged that the 49 cases of RUC killings cannot be investigated by either the H.E.T. or the Ombudsman. The appointment of the Ombudsman comes under the control of the NIO which exposes the lack of its independence and in relation to inquiries into covert policing it has to comply with RIPA. For any inquiries into covert policing the British Parliament passed the Inquiries Act 2005 which means it is highly unlikely that there will ever be independent inquiries in the future.
In 2013 it emerged, that over 1,000 former RUC officers who had received severance packages under the Patten reforms which amounted to a total cost of £500m have been rehired into key sensitive positions within the PSNI. 256 former RUC were rehired within three months 127 within a month, 54 within a week, and 21 were back within a day. Also some members were rehired into the C3 Intelligence Branch which succeeded Special Branch. During the G8 and riots in the summer of 2013 the PSNI was bolstered by several thousand temporary recruits from Britain, a recurring theme over the last 200 years when Britain’s Police force in Ireland comes under pressure.
We are constantly being told to embrace the new institutions in Stormont and that we live in a new era of peace, democracy and shared space but the evidence would clearly tell us otherwise. The continuation of the old and the introduction of new draconian legislation of Diplock Courts, Inquiries Act, MI5 Primacy, Non Independent investigative bodies, Republican POW licences: also the use of draconian laws of Stop and Search, 28 Day Detention, and also RIPA powers of surveillance i.e. undercover agents and informants and interception of communications on the general public through telephones, computers, websites, emails etc. There is also the use of Internment by remand, secret evidence and the revoking of prisoner licences. Also the families of state killings have been constantly lead up the garden path with no hope getting truth and justice.
All of this blows a hole in the myth of shared space and peace and democracy. The promise of a new beginning to policing seems as far away a possible with no accountability or scrutiny. It just seems that British Policing in Ireland can act with impunity. For Nationalists to participate in either of the PSNI, Policing Board, DPPs and the British Judicial System in Ireland just lends credibility to a corrupt and unjust British system and also helps disguises the partisan nature of political policing in Ireland.
So, for the 200 years of British political policing in Ireland where Irish Citizens have been subjected to a British controlled force within a force, little has changed. The partisan British PSNI in the six counties are here to uphold the union with Britain. The British Police State looks to continue for the foreseeable future.