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RUC can be undermiuned by every step of new legacy unit - Beattie

The following Platform piece by the party Justice Spokesperson, Doug Beattie MC MLA, appeared in the Newsletter on Wednesday 03rd April 2019.

"It is time that we, as a society, understood what our police force - the RUC GC - faced during ‘The Troubles’.  Not only were they expected to police what can reasonably classed as ‘normal’ crime but they had to deal with a level of violence and terrorism that would have overwhelmed most police services anywhere in the world.  They did so with bravery, with professionalism and with a stoic promotion of the rule of law.  They also did so while terrorists hunted them down, even in their own homes, where they could have reasonably thought themselves safe, to murder them and their families.

Throughout the period known as ‘The Troubles’ over 300 police officers were murdered by terrorists and many thousands were injured; some never fully recovering. The award of the George Cross by Her Majesty the Queen was testimony to the suffering, dedication and professionalism of the force. 

So now what of their legacy, of all they achieved during those dark decades and beyond? What happens now to those who bravely stood between the terrorists and the terrorised and saved hundreds of lives; doing so even at the cost of their own?

The new proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) gives you a snapshot of how they will be treated as part of the legacy proposals and how their story will be written by some.

Under the HIU proposals retired police officers will be subject to Non-Criminal Misconduct charges.  What does that mean?

In simple terms if a case from 1972 at the height of ‘The Troubles’ - when the RUC GC were overwhelmed with hundreds of terrorist incidents and cases, suffering personal attacks on a daily basis - is deemed not to have been investigated properly then the retired police officer can be cited for non-criminal misconduct.  He - or she - can be asked to attend for questioning by the HIU and if they refuse, can be arrested and made to attend.  Their name can be released in the form of a family legacy report yet they will not have a chance to counter any accusation made against them. 

Every step of the HIU process can undermine the RUC GC by using the records kept by the force while ignoring the context of the time, the actions of the terrorists, and the failure of the government.

Even today, with what we call relative peace, the PSNI will not investigate Troubles related crimes for those seriously injured. Only cases where there was a fatality are deemed serious enough to merit scrutiny. Yet the RUC GC officers will be dragged before the HIU, their name trailed through the mud, for not investigating cases at the height of ‘The Troubles’according to today’s standards.

How is this remotely fair? 

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland in their response to the consultation were clear on this.

‘The Federation is aware that some individual police officers did commit crimes. Where this happened, we completely condemn it. Where there is evidence of it, we support them being pursued in criminal proceedings and we are totally opposed to amnesties, for any group. Our position on this has been consistent and our intent has never been to protect wrongdoers. The Federation has nothing to hide. But how historical investigations have employed ambiguous definitions directed toward police that heavily imply serious criminality, without supporting evidence to support prosecution, is wrong.’

The republican narrative will be clear if the HIU is allowed to proceed.  By undermining the RUC GC who had primacy throughout the majority of ‘The Troubles’ they undermine all those who operated beneath them, namely the military. They can, as we have seen, claim collusion for every loyalist paramilitary killing or maiming, by promoting the notion that the RUC GC officers did not investigate the crime properly.

Incredibly, the proposals even allow the HIU to investigate allegations against dead officers who obviously are in no position to defend their reputation. It would be the ultimate betrayal if officers murdered by the IRA were now to be subjected to investigation for “non-criminal misconduct” by the HIU. 

Few believe terrorists will engage meaningfully with the HIU but according to PFNI there may also be an issue with former RUC GC members engaging for very real reasons. ‘Police officers have been uniquely singled out for investigation – a key barrier to engagement with the HIU. Officers are unable to engage with other bodies because of legal restrictions – fuelling biased narratives.

The Ulster Unionist Party has not sat back to allow this to happen.  We have opposed the creating of a parallel police force in the form of an independent investigatory unit because we knew what would happen if this was allowed to be created, with a Director akin to a Chief Constable with sweeping powers.

It is fair to say that the DUP may not have seen this coming in 2014 when they agreed to the HIU as part of the Stormont House Agreement but they knew full well when they submitted their response to the Public Consultation on Legacy.  They continue to support the formation of the HIU while deflecting blame. It is time they understood what they have set in motion and row back from it before it is too late."

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