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When we talk about a new beginning, we are talking about two new beginnings. The Government are talking about a new beginning where they hope--we all hope--that Roman Catholics will join the RUC. Sinn Fein/IRA is thinking about a different beginning. It is talking about a beginning without a police force.
At the moment, we do not suffer from as much terrorism as we did, but ordinary crime is on the increase, especially in rural areas. I live in Fermanagh and the whole county is rural. There crime is escalating. Who will solve the crime? Who believes that a police force can be plucked out of any community and be capable in a short length of time of so doing? Sinn Fein/IRA does not want ex-RUC members in the police force. It does not want a police force that is capable of solving ordinary crime. Indeed, in the urban areas one gets the impression that no Roman Catholic wants a police force. Sinn Fein/IRA or the loyalist organisations--I treat them equally--do not wish to have a police force that can sort out the crime level which has become endemic in those areas. An FBI report was quoted in the Belfast Telegraph last week as saying that the crime level is based on terrorist organisations. I suggest that if one asked the criminal underworld in London what they thought about the police force, one would hear a roughly similar point of view--do away with it and start again.
There are emblems in the badge of the RUC for all Ireland. If we think that we have a new beginning, how is it that the number of calls from Catholics from very hard areas of Northern Ireland--from Newry, the Creggan and the Falls--requiring the help of the police is increasing? The latest figures show a 20 per cent increase--25 per cent in some areas. Is the RUC really not accepted for sorting out the crime that is taking place? I would disagree with that. We are talking about a new beginning. The new beginning is partly there, but we cannot have that new beginning until the Roman Catholic Church in Northern Ireland, the SDLP and Sinn Fein support a modern police force that is capable, unfortunately for those involved, of taking on terrorist- related crime and ordinary day-to-day crime in Northern Ireland.
To those who say that they have never heard of a Roman Catholic speaking to the police or getting their help, perhaps I may say this. This morning, 100 yards from home, 38 sheep were killed through dogs worrying them. They belonged to a good friend of mine--he is a Roman Catholic from Brookeborough. Who was first on the scene? It was the RUC. What will my friend be demanding on television this evening? I say that because the television people came down. He will be demanding that the RUC get out there and deal with the normal, day-to-day problems. I totally refute the idea that Roman Catholics do not want anything to do with the RUC, although it may be so in areas where they are canvassed and intimidated and fear is instilled in their communities by those who do not wish to be caught in their acts of crime.
Lord Elton: Those who have never lived or served in Northern Ireland probably see these problems in a different light from those who have. It is now 18 years since I was there and therefore my perceptions are clouded. But I hope the noble and learned Lord the Minister will accept that there are many who would like to consider the proceedings today before coming to a conclusion as the alternatives were only recently put before us. That is not a request for delay; it is a request for a chance to absorb what is being said, some of which is very powerful stuff.
I was very much touched by what the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard--I am never sure whether to call him a right reverend Prelate or a right reverend Lord--said about what we are trying to do. We are trying to produce a police force which is not only accepted but owned by--that is, felt to belong to--all the communities in the Province. What is the principal barrier to that? It is not the force's title; it is its composition. It is the lack of Roman Catholic representation among the membership. What is the cause of that? From what I have heard, it seems to me that there are two causes. The first is the lack of commendation on the part of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and other bodies in the Province that young people should regard membership of the police as an honourable career; and the second is intimidation by
We have the horse behind the cart. As one has, in legislation, to drive both the horse and the cart through the same gate at the same time, if this has to be done now, it should not be done in haste. I was very much impressed by what my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden and other noble Lords said about the emotive effect of a title. If the title is to be changed, it must be done in a manner which does not dishonour the dead. If one is changing the name of the Birmingham police force, one does not do anything to the amour propre of anyone in a sense where it really matters.
The RUC is very like a regiment. I can understand that it has the feelings of a regiment. I have been in a regiment during an amalgamation and I understand how tender those feelings can be. But if all ranks share a determination to make the new body work, it will work. We have first of all to address the question of commendation and intimidation. This is a secondary matter.
Lord Fitt: Had I been looking after my personal interests, this is a debate which I could very well have avoided. If I as a Catholic--I am still a Catholic--educated by the Christian Brothers in Northern Ireland, were to say that I support the retention of the name of the RUC, as I intend to do, I can imagine the headlines tomorrow morning in the nationalist press in Ireland. I would be regarded as a traitor, as someone who had sold out my principles and as someone who was no longer a nationalist. All that would be said about me tomorrow morning. I could have avoided this debate. However, I think it right that this Chamber should be made fully aware of the complex issues involved in one's attitude towards the police of Northern Ireland.
I remember leading a civil rights march in Derry on 5th October 1968, a march which had been banned by the then Minister of Home Affairs, William Craig, because we were demanding civil rights in Northern Ireland which he found repugnant. Because we wanted to march down a certain street, we were beaten up by the police. I was one of the first to be beaten by the police. The pages of history will record that as a fact. So people have said to me within the past week, "How can you support the RUC when they hit you on the head with a baton on 5th October 1968?" Many years have elapsed since 1968 and many attitudes have changed. Most of the civil rights I was marching for in
Let us look clearly and distinctly at what the debate is about. The debate is in many ways a debate about the constitution of Northern Ireland. We cannot run away from that fact. It is a debate about the constitution and the existence of Northern Ireland as a state within the United Kingdom; a state which many people in Northern Ireland do not accept. During the course of my Second Reading speech I said that the Northern Ireland police are unlike any other police force in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is the only state in the United Kingdom that has a land border with an independent country--the Irish Republic. That does not apply to the police in Yorkshire or any other police force.
Northern Ireland came into being as a six-county state in the wake of an awful amount of bloodshed. In the years before partition, members of the old RIC--the Royal Irish Constabulary--were brutally murdered because they were seen to be an arm of the British domination of the Irish Republic and, indeed, Ireland.
After partition, the RIC was reformed to become the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The force was given two facets to focus on in its policing work. The first was to find miscreants who robbed meters, to investigate house burglaries and to impose parking fines as well as dealing with the other elements of conventional crime. The second facet of its work concerned its obligation to defend the state of Northern Ireland. That was why it was formed as Northern Ireland's police force. The force was given the obligation to defend the six counties' border of Northern Ireland. No other police force had such responsibilities.
Certain positions were reserved for Catholics to join the RUC. It is not strictly correct to say that Catholics do not support the existence of Northern Ireland as a constitutional entity. That is simply not true. Survey after survey has proved that many Catholics do support the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. Perhaps those Catholics come from what might be called the middle classes. They are people in employment and those who, if the state were to be abolished, would find themselves in a very difficult position.
I ask my noble friends in this Committee to recall that one of the great supporters of the RUC over many years has been a very courageous priest by the name of Monsignor Dennis Faul. He has repeatedly come out in support of the RUC. Where has Father Faul been over the past two or three months--indeed, since the publication of the Patten report? I have not heard from him. I do not believe that Father Faul has been intimidated into silence by the IRA because he has shown so much courage over the past 30 years. Therefore we must address another question: has some other force told Father Faul not to say anything in support of the RUC? I find that extremely unhelpful and despairing in the present situation.
There we have it. As I said earlier, after partition vacancies were kept for Catholics to join the RUC. However, for Catholics that move was tantamount to agreeing to the declaration that: "If you join the RUC, you are a traitor to the ideal of a united Ireland. You are allying yourself to the unionist cause. You are a traitor to your religion." Very little has changed. That is what will be said about me by tomorrow morning in the pan-nationalist press of Northern Ireland. However, many Catholics think as I do; namely, that in the present situation, the RUC has been humiliated and demonised by a bloodthirsty band of murderers who have been carrying out the most atrocious crimes on the island of Ireland over the past 30 years.
But those Catholics who think as I do hesitate before they would say anything in public. They would hesitate before writing a letter to the Belfast Telegraph or the Irish News, because they know what would be the probable results. Let us not say that every Catholic is clamouring for the abolition of the RUC as regards its name, badge and insignia. Many Catholics in Northern Ireland have never had any difficulties with the RUC.
One could pursue the emotional vein and examine what has happened to the RUC over the past 30 years: 302 killed and 8,000 wounded. I have said before in this place that, had it not been for the RUC, Northern Ireland would have descended into a state of total anarchy. It was the RUC which prevented that happening.
Before 1968, namely, before the onset of the civil rights movement and the present troubles, why even then did not Catholics join the Royal Ulster Constabulary? Between 1922 and 1968, all kinds of doors were opened to help enable Catholics to join the RUC. However, they did not. Why not? I must observe that on occasion I have heard other speakers in this place demonstrate their infuriating ignorance of the situation when they declare, "If this Bill goes through, republicans and nationalists will join the RUC." That is a contradiction in terms. What does republicanism mean? Republicans do not wish to see the continuing existence of Northern Ireland. What does nationalism mean? Nationalists wish to see a united Ireland, but they wish to bring to an end the six counties of Northern Ireland. How can nationalists--who hold to their beliefs--and republicans--who want to see a resolution far more quickly than the constitutional nationalists--join together in a force which has declared that it is a part of the United Kingdom and has the royal insignia on its cap badge?
All the difficulties that have existed in Northern Ireland for many years are being opened up by this Bill. I do not believe that we shall see a rush of Catholics to join the RUC. Indeed, only over the past week or so in the Irish legislature, an SDLP councillor from Ballymena, Declan O'Lohn, came out and said that he would lend his support to Catholics who wished to join the RUC. He further said that a prolonged and vicious attack had been made on every aspect of unionist culture in Northern Ireland. The unionists now feel as I felt in 1968 when I marched for civil rights to be instituted in the state of Northern
Last week a vicious murder took place in Ballymurphy. A young man by the name of O'Connor was killed by the Provisional IRA. The organisation has denied it, but everyone knows that its members were responsible. The fact is that when their members took off their masks, they were identified as members of the Provisional IRA, an organisation which allegedly is on ceasefire. However, no one will go to the police and say, "I saw those men kill that other man. I saw them without their masks on." No one would be prepared to give such evidence in court, which is the only way to convict the murderers. It is simply not going to happen. As we have already seen, and as highlighted on the recent "Panorama" programme, people both North and South of the border on the island of Ireland know the identity of those who were responsible for the brutal tragedy in Omagh on 15th August 1998. But no one is prepared to go into the witness box. Anyone who did so would be putting his life in jeopardy.
I have noticed certain subtle differences of which noble Lords may not be aware. "The Good Friday agreement" is a term used by nationalists. Maybe it has something to do with Good Friday. It is used by Sinn Fein, by the SDLP, by the government in the Republic and by the Irish Americans. But the unionists in Northern Ireland, who find some of its recommendations very hard to stomach, call it "The Belfast agreement". So they differ even in the terminology and naming of the agreement.
Surveys which have taken place in Northern Ireland prove that there is not total objection to the RUC in the Catholic community and indicate that the change of name has been brought about by people who are determined to humiliate and condemn the RUC.
I repeat something that I said in my Second Reading speech. I shall say it again on Third Reading and go on saying it. There is a Mafia in Northern Ireland at the moment. An assistant chief constable said yesterday that three-quarters of Belfast is under the control of a Mafia, be it loyalist or republican; three-quarters of Belfast is, to some extent, caught up in the Mafia war which is currently taking place.
We only have to look at what has happened on the Shankill Road over the past two months with so-called loyalist organisations. "The Ulster Volunteer Force". Volunteers against what? "The Ulster Freedom Fighters". Freedom to do what? From whom do they want their freedom? If we look at what they call themselves, we can see what the police force in Northern Ireland has had to contend with.
When Patten was given this undertaking he was told to try to find a resolution to the divisions which were taking place within the RUC. In one part of his report he said that his job was to take the RUC out of politics. He has done exactly the reverse. He has brought the Royal Ulster Constabulary to the forefront of political divisions in Northern Ireland. If these are his conclusions, they do not augur well for sanity in Northern Ireland.
At the beginning of my remarks I said that you will get unionists, Protestants, maybe lapsed Catholics, who will speak out in support of the RUC. I am a Catholic; I have a Catholic education and a Catholic belief in the present and the hereafter, and I speak with a conscience in regard to this clause. I support the retention of the name of the RUC.
Lord Laird: I am conscious that I am following the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I pay tribute to his remarks. He is correct: his remarks will cause him trouble from the pan-national press and pan-national people back in Northern Ireland. It is important for the Committee to recognise that the noble Lord has made an extremely brave speech.
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