Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 13 DECEMBER 2000
80. Mr McQuillan, where there are reports to
the RUC that people have been intimidated from their homes, what
monitoring does the RUC carry out as to where they move; and,
in particular, does the RUC offer any special protection to those
who relocate within Northern Ireland?
(Mr McQuillan) There is a series of questions there.
When the Housing Executive approach us, we will give the Housing
Executive a statement on whether or not we believe the persons
are moving because of intimidation. If the Housing Executive have
any doubts as to where that person should be relocated, because
of the threatened intimidation, there may be a discussion with
us, and we are prepared and able to give them advice on what options
there may be for that person's relocation, or what the implications
may be of relocating them into a particular other area. We do
have some concerns about this, because, in a sense, we almost
feel as though we are colluding in the process of forcing them
out; but we feel that we have to do this on a case-by-case basis,
on a risk basis. So that is the first answer, we do give advice.
Sorry, Sir, the second part of your question?
81. Does the RUC offer any special protection?
(Mr McQuillan) If there is a threat to the life of
anyone in Northern Ireland then in some circumstances they may
be admitted to the Northern Ireland Government's Key Persons Protection
Scheme, and that provides some physical protection for them. That,
however, is a scheme that is operated by the Northern Ireland
Office, they control and decide on the entry conditions; we will
give them a security assessment and an assessment on the property,
as part of that process. There is also, as I have referred to
in the paper, if the people concerned are owner-occupiers, the
SPED scheme, under which they can have their house purchased by
the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, and that can assist some
people to relocate. But, in terms of providing specific protection,
we would not normally provide specific protection; what we can
do is, on occasions, if we believe there is a threat, we have
a duty of care and we will respond to that specific threat. That
might mean an increase in patrols around their houses, paying
attention to their houses, but we do not provide specific protection
in those circumstances; could I just say, except for a very small
range of senior, for example, members of the judiciary.
82. You referred to the close co-operation with
the Housing Executive; does the RUC itself ever advise people
to relocate outside Northern Ireland, or within it, as a result
(Mr McQuillan) We would never give that advice. People
would frequently perhaps ask us, "What level of protection
can you provide me?", and we would feel forced to give them
an honest answer in relation to that. And the reality is that
we cannot protect people 24 hours a day, seven days a week; so
we would provide advice to them on what options were open to them,
and it would then be a matter for them to decide what to do.
83. So the actual advice to relocate would come
from another agency, most probably the Housing Executive?
(Mr McQuillan) In our experience, people very often
make up their minds and go to the agency concerned looking for
a move, or come to us looking for some sort of protection or access
to the SPED scheme; they might also seek advice from political
representatives, and frequently political representatives would
assist them in making representations to us or to other Government
84. Good afternoon. The problem seems to be
a bit of a vicious circle, really; in order to combat intimidation
and exclusion, it requires a certain level of support in the community,
and because of paramilitary activity that is difficult to get.
Are there any ways in which the RUC can improve that level of
support, or will the various reforms that have now been enacted
by Parliament make any difference, do you think, to this?
(Mr McQuillan) There are ways that we can do it, and
there are ways that we do do it. I think you are absolutely right,
that the key issue to this is paramilitary violence, and the key
problem is paramilitarism, and we have got to tackle that, and
that means a long-term campaign against that. I think there are
several components in that. The first is to try to reassure those
people who are being intimidated, to provide what support we can
provide to them; to ensure that we do everything possible to investigate
those crimes, to catch the people responsible and to bring them
before the courts as a deterrent; and also to try to reassure
the wider community. Now, we have tried to do that, for example,
in the Shankill Road area, by demonstrating, for example, during
the Loyalist feuds, that we would not hesitate to bring in whatever
level of military force was required to assist us in getting that
situation under control and deterring further attacks, and that
was quite successful in stopping those attacks and in arresting
and making some people amenable for offences. But it does demand
a long-term campaign, and it demands a long-term campaign to deal
with the actual effects and deal with the paramilitary organisations.
85. And do you think the reforms of the RUC
have any impact on this?
(Mr McQuillan) I think, in one sense, in terms of,
for example, the Chairman's opening questions, the reforms on
the criminal justice side, in terms of putting together a Community
Safety Strategy, sharing information, working together to solve
problems, could have a very positive effect on this, but we would
need first to build up a momentum to begin to undermine the paramilitary
violence. But certainly some of those reforms could assist us
in working much more closely together, and remove some of the
legal barriers to, for example, sharing information.
86. Good afternoon, Mr McQuillan; welcome to
our Committee. To what extent has the increased sectarian homogeneity
of many urban estates made it more difficult for the police to
operate normally in them; and are there any areas which the RUC
regards as `no go' areas, or as areas which require special precautions
before they are entered by RUC officers on duty?
(Mr McQuillan) There are areas in Northern Ireland
where we take special precautions. Our patrol profile is adjusted
according to the security threat. For example, in South Armagh,
we are still forced, by the threat of attack, to travel by helicopter,
to have quite significant military support accompanying police
patrols. In virtually every other area of Northern Ireland, we
have now reached a situation where the police patrol on their
own, and without substantial military support, on a routine basis;
we only bring the military in when we need to do so, because we
do not have enough resources, or because there is a peak in the
violence. The short answer is though there are no `no go' areas;
there are still some areas where we have to take special precautions.
In terms of the overall control of estates, we have not found,
as yet, that the overall paramilitary control, in certain areas,
or, the strength of paramilitarism, in some areas, stops us operating.
It clearly has an impact upon policing, in that people are afraid
to speak out, people are afraid to be seen going to the police,
but that situation has persisted for many years, and certainly
our impression is that it is getting better in many areas. For
example, in West Belfast, or parts of West Belfast, the last three
or four years, we have seen the number of calls, routine calls
to the police for assistance, virtually double. So, in that sense,
we believe people in those areas do want to get back to a normal
society, they are voting with their feet, and they want honest
policing, and they are prepared to support that.
87. Thank you. What is the RUC's experience
of the geographical extent of the problem of people being forced
from their homes; is this a problem throughout the Province, or
is it identified particularly with certain localities and estates?
(Mr McQuillan) As I tried to make clear in the written
evidence, the vast majority of this problem is concentrated into
a relatively few areas, in comparison with the totality of Northern
Ireland. Most of Northern Ireland is basically very peaceful and
has low crime rates, about two-thirds to three-quarters of those
in the rest of the UK; so it is basically quite a peaceful, law-abiding
society, in many ways. There are a number of areas, both Loyalist
and Republican, where this goes on, where it is concentrated;
for example, parts of Belfast, parts of South Down, along the
border, Dungannon, and parts of Londonderry, including Londonderry.
Those are the areas where it has been most prevalent.
88. Is it not a fact that these areas are expanding
and they are getting more?
(Mr McQuillan) In terms of actual exclusions from
Northern Ireland, it is not my perception that we are seeing people
excluded from new areas; we have certainly seen an increase in
the volume of these paramilitary beatings and attacks of that
type, but it is not my impression that the geographic area has
been spread out.
89. But will that not actually lead to that,
when the paramilitaries have taken more control of more areas?
(Mr McQuillan) What we are saying, Sir, is not necessarily
paramilitaries taking more control of more areas, what we are
seeing is paramilitaries fighting within areas for control of
them. So, for example, there has always been a problem of paramilitaries
in Loyalist areas in North Belfast; what we are seeing now is
the different groups within those areas fighting for pre-eminence
within those areas.
90. Good afternoon, Mr McQuillan. It says in
paragraph 8 of the memorandum that there is "a perception
in some areas of concerted long-term campaigns to force members
of one religion or another out of rural areas." Can I ask
you, does the RUC regard that as an accurate perception?
(Mr McQuillan) I think we would have to look at each
individual area, but, generally, no. There are natural population
movements as well, and, if you look at the long-term trends, in
many areas the answer is probably no, but there is a clear perception
of that. There have been problems in some areas, for example,
South Armagh, back in the early seventies, where virtually the
entire Protestant population in that particular case has now left
the area. And I think that was an example of where there was clearly
some sort of concerted campaign; but one can overplay this as
well. I would not deny that it does go on. There is a very strong
sense of ownership in different areas, and therefore there are
tensions in the community, but the extent to which it goes on
can be overplayed.
91. Right; so it has happened in the past, there
have been some examples, and it may still occur, but the fear
of it may be greater than the reality, at the moment?
(Mr McQuillan) Yes. There are natural changes of demographics;
populations are changing. The Nationalist population, in percentage
terms, is increasing, and therefore that probably, in many areas,
leads to a sense of expansion. Whether that is motivated by a
desire to push Protestants out, however, is a completely different
issue; it might just be a normal, natural progression of demographic
92. Thank you. In the memorandum, when you were
talking about how the RUC try to counter sectarian attacks, you
talk about the importance of liaison with community leaders and
community groups. Can I ask you, first of all, in your experience,
are all groups equally keen to work with the RUC in efforts to
reduce these tensions?
(Mr McQuillan) The answer is, no. In general, many
of the political leaders are keen; there are other community groups
that perhaps are less keen, because (a) they do not want to expose
themselves, they do not want to be seen to be working closely
with the police, or they have political problems in working with
the police. The vast majority of people, I have to say, though,
or the vast majority of political leaders, will work very sensibly
and pragmatically with us, to try to reduce these tensions and
problems. In some cases, too, where people are not prepared to
work directly with us, they will work with us through intermediaries.
93. Would you say that these measures, promoted
by the RUC, have generally been effective?
(Mr McQuillan) I believe that we have succeeded in
significantly reducing problems, we have succeeded in stopping
problems, in many areas, we have succeeded in containing them,
in others. The difficulty is, we cannot do it all the time. We
can be very successful, for example, along the interface areas,
in Belfast and the urban areas, we have been very successful there,
we have been very successful in other areas, but where there are
tensions within a community it is virtually impossible to stop
those attacks within communities themselves. It is also extremely
difficult to stop attacks where you have a minority community
living mixed in among a majority community; we can do everything
that we can, in terms of patrolling and saturating areas, using
intelligence, following up incidents by investigation to try to
track down those responsible, but it is very difficult to stop
a neighbour coming out and putting a stone through another neighbour's
94. Could you quote, just for the benefit of
the Committee, are there any specific examples you could cite
of a cross-community initiative that the RUC has promoted that
has actually had a positive outcome?
(Mr McQuillan) In terms of these sorts of problems,
I think the difficulty is, these have portrayed very localised
issues, and therefore the key is to get the community groups and
the political groups on both sides talking to each other across
the communities, so that you remove misunderstandings; when problems
and tensions do arise, you can try to quickly defuse them. We
have worked quite successfully, too, along some of the interfaces
in Belfast, in terms of trying to design out areas of tension.
For example, people always think of Belfast in terms of the `peace
walls'; well, there are actually a number of areas where there
have been very good design schemes put along the sides of roads
that build in hedges, and areas, so that, in essence, there are
no areas for youths from both sides to congregate, and when they
are in their respective areas they do not see each other, so we
reduce the tensions that way. In terms of cross-community groups,
the cross-community efforts, no. I can cite one example from my
own personal experience, which was an internal feud, where we
had a very serious situation developing of an internal feud between
two Loyalist groups, which was in severe danger of resulting in
people being killed. And by dealing with the political leaders
on both sides they then took up the issue, managed to bring in
someone who could mediate between the paramilitary groups, and
we averted, I believe, a number of people being killed, by bringing
in people who could negotiate and resolve the problems and the
conflicts between the groups.
95. Can I ask, in terms of the community groups
and the community leaders that you would have relied on to help
you in this situation, would FAIT, Families Against Intimidation
and Terror, have been one of the groups that the RUC would have
(Mr McQuillan) We would have worked with FAIT, I think
it is fair to say, at arm's length. There are a large number of
groups in Northern Ireland representing victims' organisations.
We are quite happy to work with any legitimate group, and we would
want to do everything that we could to support them and their
work; we do, however, exercise care, in some cases.
96. Of course. Could I ask you approximately
when Vincent McKenna would first have started assisting the RUC
in these matters?
(Mr McQuillan) I do not know that I would say that
Mr McKenna assisted the RUC in these matters.
97. I meant, in the context of being a community
leader who would have given you affirmation and worked with you,
in the way that you have been describing?
(Mr McQuillan) Quite frankly, Sir, I am not in a position
to answer now. I can try to get you a written answer on this,
in relation to our contacts with the FAIT group; but I have no
personal knowledge of it, and I am just not sure. 
98. So you personally do not know when Mr McKenna
would have started having any contact with the RUC in relation
to these matters?
(Mr McQuillan) I first recall Mr McKenna personally
in the mid to late nineties; but when you say having contact,
my recollection is that Mr McKenna was predominantly contacted
first through the media and that we would see what he was raising.
I am not sure of the level of actual contact with Mr McKenna,
or FAIT, direct with the RUC, but we could have that researched
and respond to the Committee on that.
99. I would be grateful. Can I ask you one last
question on this. Again, in the memorandum, you stress that intelligence
is one of the key tools for the police in dealing with these matters;
would police intelligence reports have alerted you to any concerns
about Vincent McKenna?
(Mr McQuillan) I am genuinely not in a position to
answer that, Sir. I simply do not know the answer, and I would
not like potentially to mislead the Committee; but, again, I can
seek an answer on that.
Mr McCabe: I look forward to hearing that. Thank
you very much.
1 See Ev p 36. Back