Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 65 - 79)




  65. I have been debating whether I should welcome you as Assistant Chief Constable or as Mr McQuillan. You may wish to state a preference yourself. I think it will be easier for the record if I address you as Mr McQuillan.

  (Mr McQuillan) I am quite content with that Sir, thank you.

  66. You are content with that. Thank you most warmly for the memorandum you sent us, the written memorandum, and also for coming to see us today. We will endeavour to make our questions follow a logical order, but in the nature of the shape of this horseshoe it means the questions may come from different quarters, we will not simply go round the room. If there is any way in which you want to gloss any answer you have given us, either here and now or in writing afterwards, please do not hesitate to do that; and, equally, when we have had the opportunity of reading the transcript, it may strike us that there is some question which we ought to have asked you which we failed to ask you, and we will reserve the right to follow up with a question in writing after the event. Is there anything you would like to say to us before we start asking questions?
  (Mr McQuillan) No, Sir, I am quite happy.

  67. Alright. In the introduction of the memorandum, the RUC categorises six groups who are singled out for attack or intimidation. Are you able to offer us numbers of cases in each of those categories known to the RUC, or reported to it, during, say, each of the last three years? And if, on any of these questions, it is easier for you to write to us afterwards, rather than taking the questions now, then obviously feel free to do so.
  (Mr McQuillan) The short answer to that, Sir, is, no, we are not able to give definitive figures in any of these categories. There is a series of reasons for that. First of all, the information is incomplete, and we know it is incomplete and we know it is unreliable. There is a whole series of factors in that. All of the information is shared across a range of different Government agencies, so each of us has part of the picture. We have tried here to analyse this logically and present it in that way, but I must also say that these are not necessarily absolutely discrete categories, in that there may be overlaps between different areas. We are forced to categorise things in a particular way, but, for example, we put down some of the intimidations to feuds within Loyalist organisations; the primary motive for some of that may be disputes over drugs, it may be personal disputes, there can be all sorts of different motivations within these different categories. But one of the problems that we do have is the lack of consistent, reliable information.

  68. Would you want to give us any sense of trends, in any of those categories?
  (Mr McQuillan) I think, Sir, if I deal with each of the categories in turn. If we deal with sectarian intimidation, this has always been, for many, many years, a feature of the situation in Northern Ireland. As we have set out in the paper, in the early 1970s there was massive intimidation that led to huge-scale movement in housing in Belfast, and, as a result of that, almost a modus vivendi was reached, where different communities settled into particular areas, with quite clear interfaces between them, in some of the urban areas. And the problem of, therefore, intimidation in housing movement then settled largely along those interfaces. So the level of intimidation then dropped through the mid seventies and eighties. I think, subjectively, we feel that intimidation and sectarian attacks have probably increased slightly, or increased in some areas, over the last couple of years, there have been signs of increased friction. It has always been part of the back-drop, but we believe that in some areas it has increased, and there is clear evidence of that. For example, at the moment, in the town of Larne, we have had a series of very well-publicised, sectarian attacks from both sides of the community, on both sides of the community, and also, for example, in the town of Coleraine, we have had a series of attacks on Roman Catholics. But our subjective impression is, it is going up. The issue of paramilitary feuds predominantly affects the Loyalist organisations; there has been a massive increase in that over the last 12 to 18 months. There has always been a series of different tensions among the major Loyalist paramilitary groups, and, as we have tried to set out in the paper, there are all sorts of motivations for that; there are personal disputes between people, there are turf wars over racketeering, and individuals trying to extend their scope of operations, but there has been a massive increase in that, which has culminated in the feuding over the last 12 months, with a number of people shot dead, in Belfast and other areas.

  69. Can I just break for a moment. Do your remarks about the turf wars on racketeering apply both to Republicans and to Loyalists?
  (Mr McQuillan) Much less so on the Republican side, because, on the Loyalist side, we have a fragmented series of different groups, of broadly equal strength. On the Republican side, until the emergence of the Real IRA, there was only one dominant group, so there was no inter-feuding on any significant scale. We have seen Republican feuds in the past, in the mid eighties, for example, when a number of people were murdered, but not on the scale of the Loyalist feuds, and that is primarily because the Provisional IRA was such a dominant force in Republican terrorism. Members of security forces, prison officers and public officials, Sir, we do have some reliable figures for those because they are Government employees, and we have presented those in graphical form. The picture there is that post the start of the Drumcree period, around 1996, the numbers of intimidations went up very significantly, and then over the last couple of years they have started to steady and come down. Almost all of those were Loyalist intimidation of police officers, prison officers and, for example, members of the Royal Irish Regiment, who were living in broadly Unionist areas of Northern Ireland; and that is the reason for the change in pattern. There is also, within that, a steady background pattern of people forced to relocate because, for example, they are police officers, and we have become aware that Republican terrorists have also begun to target them and have identified, for example, their home address and are attempting to find out details of their movements. That is a steady pattern that is running in the background, and has for a number of years; the Loyalist up and down movement is superimposed upon it. Alleged criminals, Sir, again, we feel, and the figures in terms of punishment beatings, I think, tend to show, that since the ceasefires there has been an upward trend, certainly initially, in relation to punishment attacks, so-called punishment attacks; those are basically the paramilitary organisations on both sides trying to establish their sense of control of what they regard as their territory, and intimidate any opposition in the relevant communities. The other two final categories that we have listed are disputes with paramilitaries and victims of racial intimidation. The issue of disputes with paramilitaries is very small; frankly, very few people are prepared to stand up against these organisations. There are some people who are; there are some increasing signs that perhaps local criminals, in, for example, Loyalist areas, are prepared to not accept the Loyalist paramilitaries' control over crime, in the way that perhaps they used to like to do. But that is roughly level; but it is very small. And also then there is the issue of the victims of racial intimidation. This is an issue that we have only really begun to keep statistics on recently. It is a growing problem, but it is difficult to see to what extent the problem is growing because we have got better information, and therefore we are exposing more of it. We have had a real drive on to try to ensure that all instances of racial intimidation are treated very seriously, and that people from racial minority communities obtain a proper service from the police. That, we think, has led to better reporting, and therefore people being more willing to come forward. I am sorry, Sir, that is a very whistle-stop tour.

  70. Thank you very much indeed. My recollection is that the Secretary of State, in response to a question from myself, I think, in fact, in a written submission after the oral examination we were conducting, did give us figures of those whom he believed to have been sent into exile over a period of time. In terms of the categories we are looking at, either globally or in terms of the individual six categories, would the RUC have figures of those forced from their homes?
  (Mr McQuillan) No, Sir, we do not, for a series of reasons. I am not aware of the Secretary of State's response to your question, or how the figures were compiled in that; we could cross-check that and come back to the Committee, if you wish. Again, I would suggest that we can provide figures for those that we know of.

  71. Yes, of course, at all times, I am allowing for the fact that there is no way you can include the people you do not know of.
  (Mr McQuillan) We do not, specifically, as an organisation, keep figures for people forced from their homes, because we do not necessarily know that that has happened, and therefore we do not keep statistics of that type. There are two main sources of statistics though. We have figures for the number of people who are dealt with under the SPED scheme, and those are owner-occupiers; we can rely on those. What we do not have, are what the Housing Executive may be able to give, are some figures for those forced out of Housing Executive accommodation. There are, however, a number of other social landlords and private landlords, and we have no idea how many people are forced out of their home there, unless it has been reported to us. There is the further issue, Sir, that, very often, the people who are excluded in this way tend to be young people, who may well be living with their parents, and we know of cases where the young people have been forced into exile but the parents are permitted and continue to reside in the family home. So the entire picture is extremely difficult to quantify.

  72. But in that latter case would you, in fact, keep a numerical record of it, or is it just simply anecdotal information which you have?
  (Mr McQuillan) If it has been reported to us as a crime, we would have a record of it, otherwise we might have some intelligence in relation to it, but we have no reliable statistical database.

  73. The answers you have given us already underline what you said in the memorandum about the difficulties relating to information. Is there any current endeavour to improve the quality of that information?
  (Mr McQuillan) Within the RUC, the answer is yes. We are endeavouring to develop a new computerised database, which will allow us to better track, for example, all records in relation to hate crime. In terms of the wider public sector in Northern Ireland, I am unaware of any specific effort focused in this area, but we are in discussions, following the Criminal Justice Review, with the Northern Ireland Office, and the Community Safety Centre in Northern Ireland, to try to develop a Northern Ireland Crime and Disorder Strategy, a Community Safety Strategy; that Community Safety Strategy is due to be produced in draft form early next year. We also have responsibilities for monitoring, under the provisions of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act, and I think that is going to force Government Departments to start to produce statistical information, reliably, on a consistent basis. So the short answer is, there is some work going on at Government level that we are aware of, but it has not been focused specifically on just this issue, it is focused upon the whole area of statistics that we provide, including the criminal justice system.

  74. Let me use a couple of analogies, before I ask my next question. Customs and Excise, in calculating what proportion of drugs entering the United Kingdom they have been able to seize, have obviously had to use certain proxy statistics, in order to calculate how much is actually coming in that they have not seized, for obvious reasons, and it comes under the same category as the examples you have been giving. Also, and I will not identify a particular country but there are countries in southern Europe where, in order to draw up national income statistics, you have to make certain assumptions about the scale of the black economy in those particular countries, and I can think of at least one country where it is large enough to be a significant element in the figures. Do you have internally a process of estimating how much paramilitary intimidation, particularly in the context of leaving home, is going on which is not reported to you?
  (Mr McQuillan) No, Sir, we do not. We would rely upon individual, local assessments, because predominantly this is organised or created on a local basis, and therefore we would rely upon local commanders to try to maintain contact with other public agencies in their area, and, through that, those contacts give them a feeling for the amount of this that is happening.

  75. So you would have a feeling, based at a local level, but you would not have a global figure, because there would be certain areas where you did not actually have a feeling?
  (Mr McQuillan) We do not aggregate the figures, because it is very difficult to aggregate feelings. The local commander, for example, in the area that covers the Shankill Road, in Belfast, would have a very good relationship with the local Housing Executive, other major landlords and would have a good feeling for what was happening within the community and to what extent there was intimidation of people, people were being forced to move; he will certainly be getting information on that from intelligence. At the centre of the organisation, we would have a general impression of what was going on, or if there was a pattern emerging, because of the clear chain of command, but we would not be able to quantify it.

  Chairman: Before I call on Mr Hunter, arising out of the evidence we have had so far, does anybody want to come in? Mr Beggs.

Mr Beggs

  76. Thank you, Mr Chairman. Is it not a fact that, for someone to be moved by the Housing Executive, it is necessary for the RUC to provide the Housing Executive with a certificate or a statement that intimidation has taken place, or worse?
  (Mr McQuillan) Generally, yes, it is.

  77. So that there ought to be, in each local station, some record, and it would be possible then to compile a total?
  (Mr McQuillan) Yes, Sir, it will be possible to compile a list of those in those areas and the number of cases that the Housing Executive have referred to us, but, as I have tried to explain, we believe that is only a part of the problem. There are those that we simply do not know about, because they do not tell the Housing Executive, they just vanish. In some cases; they may be living with parents or relatives and the parents or relatives remain there, so we will not always know. Probably, particularly where they leave Northern Ireland, and if they leave Northern Ireland and go to the mainland or go to the Irish Republic, unless the housing authority there would write to us we would not necessarily know what had happened.

Mr Clarke

  78. I just wanted to focus in on this undetected and unreported intimidation, and I quite understand that you are unable to give a figure, but would you be able to go as far as accepting that there are probably more unreported than reported instances of intimidation; that is not very precise, I know, but just to give the Committee a feeling?
  (Mr McQuillan) I think that, in terms of intimidation, pure intimidation that does not force people to move home, I would say that there is a huge amount of intimidation that is never reported and that we have no real idea of.

  79. And exclusions?
  (Mr McQuillan) In terms of exclusions, I would say, we will generally find out that it has happened, because the paramilitary organisations concerned wish to ensure that it gets publicity, because that is part of their motivation, that they want to show publicly that they have done this; so we would have a good idea of that. We would have a good idea of those intimidations where people are forced to move home; we have no idea about the overall scale of intimidation.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 19 July 2001