Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



Mr Hunter

  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 of threats?
  (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 agencies.

Mr Grogan

  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.

Mr Beggs

  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.

Mr Thompson

  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.

Mr McCabe

  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 trends.

  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 window.

  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 worked with?
  (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. [1]

  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

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