The RUC are consistently betrayed, but they have much to be proud of, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Published: 11 November 2019

RUC officers on patrol in Belfast in 1994

RUC officers on patrol in Belfast in 1994

Last week I caught up on BBC iPlayer with Cops On The Frontline, directed by Dubliner Gerry Gregg, one of a handful of citizens of the Republic of Ireland who challenge nationalist prejudices by exposing uncomfortable truths in the media.

So, when he was asked to make a film based on the testimonies of individual RUC officers who had served during the Troubles he seized the opportunity.

He was fortunate to have the help of Dr William Matchett, a one-time detective inspector in Special Branch and author of that fine book Secret Victory: The Intelligence War That Beat The IRA, in finding retired cops prepared to tell their stories.

After all these years of seeing the outstandingly brave police force for which they worked being demonised by those who cheered their murderers and betrayed by politicians bent on appeasement, few were prepared to go public. But those who raised their heads once again above the parapet have done their ex-colleagues – dead and alive – a great service.

You would have to be an emotional cripple, or a dyed-in-the-wool sectarian bigot, not to find these interviews gripping and moving and, though heartbreaking at times, they are an inspiring testimony to extraordinary moral and physical courage and the ability of good people to forgive.

All the participants have riveting stories, but I single out Catholic Dessie McCormack – like his two murdered brothers, a target of loyalist as well as republican paramilitaries – who was proud of the RUC ethos of doing things right and not seeking revenge.

Having watched that film, I was in the wrong mood to be charitable about two political developments last week.

There was the pious letter to The Irish Times entitled ‘Ireland’s Future’ signed by 1,000 people, who claimed to be politically non-partisan but included no unionists and quite a few rabid republicans.

Gerry Gregg’s long-time friend and associate, journalist Eoghan Harris, commented that they are “a classic amalgam of petty bourgeois intellectuals and artists and the nationalist bourgeoisie”. There was certainly nothing in the letter to raise any eyebrows in Connolly House or the Felons’ Club.

The Independent Review Commission (IRC), the paramilitary monitoring panel, was also in the news last week when it issued its report.

It had plenty to say about UVF and UDA criminality – and rightly so – and banged on quite a bit, speculating about the potential of Brexit to “add fuel to the fire of continued paramilitarism”, but didn’t mention either the IRA or INLA at all.

Now, it’s important to bear in mind that a 2015 Government report specifically said that Sinn Fein was overseen by the IRA, which was still busy gathering intelligence, hanging on to weapons and sometimes indulging in violence.

It is also surely relevant that, during the Renewable Heat Incentive hearings it emerged that Sinn Fein minister Mairtin O Muilleoir had been seeking orders from Padraic Wilson, a former Maze IRA “officer commanding”, and other shadowy figures.

So, there was incredulity from journalists, unionists and Innocent Victims United spokesman Kenny Donaldson, who spoke of the despair of victims at the IRC’s failure to scrutinise “the status of the Provisional IRA and its role, connection and influence”.

But when questions were asked of the IRC spokeswoman, Professor Monica McWilliams, a former chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, she said: “Well, that is a political issue… well, perhaps the Secretary of State would then want to do that. But clearly there are those in power who believe that their focus should be elsewhere.”

What? Even the normally cautious PSNI has confirmed that there’s been no change since the 2015 assessment that the army council were still overseeing Sinn Fein and IRA remnants “with an overarching strategy”.

But, hey, Sinn Fein are happy and think the four commissioners did a great job.

I hope that, when the election is over, whoever is Secretary of State will watch Gerry Gregg’s film, ignore the sanctimonious 1,000 and tell the IRC to do its job.

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