Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



Mr Barnes

  100. To follow on from Mr McCabe, in connection with the position of FAIT, FAIT was in operation before Vincent McKenna became prominent within the body; and a leading light in establishing it, who later fell out with it, was Nancy Gracey. Nancy Gracey, presumably, in the organisation that she was running at that time, would be making various contacts with the RUC. And would there be, therefore, sort of an established pattern that might have existed in the links between them, even if they were at arm's length, that had been established historically, with FAIT, that Vincent McKenna maybe then moved in on?
  (Mr McQuillan) Again, Sir, I honestly do not know, and I can include that in the answer, but could I say that we actually have relationships, as an organisation, with quite literally hundreds of groups; very often that relationship is simply that they will write to us, they will write to us raising various issues, we will do our best to respond to them. In terms of working with them in partnerships, we are generally extremely careful to look at the bone fides and objectives of the groups, before we would engage in any joint activity. Now I simply do not know the answers to the question you have raised, but I will endeavour to find them out and respond to the Committee.

  Mr Barnes: Thank you.

Mr McCabe

  101. Can I ask just one, very small, last question, on the same subject, Mr McQuillan. Would I be right to assume that, if police intelligence reports did raise concerns about any of the individuals or groups, you say hundreds, that you are having to deal with, that would weight or impact upon the way the police viewed information coming from those individuals, or groups?
  (Mr McQuillan) We would evaluate the information coming from them in its own right. What it would affect would be the way we would be prepared to work with or to enter any sort of arrangements or partnerships with those organisations. We work with many groups, some of which are, for example, organisations that represent former prisoners, or even prisoners for what is called `ordinary crime', we work with those groups, and obviously some of their clients have long, extensive criminal records. We would evaluate each case on its merits. We would be particularly concerned, I think, about working with any group where the organisers appeared to us to have ulterior motives. That, I must say, is very rare; the majority of the groups that come to us and that we are in correspondence already with are very well-motivated organisations. There are huge numbers of people in Northern Ireland doing very, very good work, on a whole range of issues, some of which are directly relevant to the issues we have been discussing, and we want to do everything we can to support them.

  Mr McCabe: Thank you very much, Mr McQuillan.

Mr Pound

  102. Good afternoon, Mr McQuillan. Before we come on to the question I was going to ask, just following on from what Mr McCabe said, in September 1999, there was a major rally at the Ulster Hall, between 1,500 and 2,000 people were present, at which both Sir John Herman and Sir John Gorman, whom you obviously know well, were speakers, along with John Taylor and Jeffrey Donaldson. At that time, Vincent McKenna was also a speaker on the same stage, along with, I believe, Charles Moore, the Editor of The Daily Telegraph. At that time, of course, McKenna was representing something called the Northern Ireland Human Rights Bureau; and in your response to Mr McCabe you may wish to include that organisation, because the impression that Mr McKenna gave, strongly, was that he was working with the RUC, certainly at that meeting, on that night, and through some of his work with the Human Rights Bureau. I seem to remember, at that meeting, according to the news report at the time, Jeffrey Donaldson entered the hall to a rousing, tumultuous, standing ovation, and I am sure he must be used to that, but we will not perhaps mention it again today. But could I just go on to the question I wanted to ask, which is a slightly technical question, and I am very grateful for the detail of the information you have given us. The idea of people being forced from their homes is not exclusive to Northern Ireland, it happens in my constituency, it happens throughout the rest of the world. Where it does happen, the police then have a problem of the empty property, and I am just wondering, in terms of operational procedure, what do your officers do in such a case to prevent looting, theft, trespass, vandalism or illegal reoccupation of the property?
  (Mr McQuillan) In general, I do not think illegal reoccupation is a major problem in Northern Ireland; that would normally be dealt with by the Housing Executive. What we would do would depend upon the area; if we were working closely with the local housing office and there was a problem, we would do everything we could to support them, and we would encourage them to relet the property as quickly as possible. Together with the Housing Executive, we have actually recently taken an initiative in this area, in that, in preparation for the new Community Safety Strategy, we now have a police officer working full-time in the Housing Executive. And her role is to work with them on making sure that we have joint policies in areas like this, so that we are working together not only to deal with the problems on estates, rehabilitate the estates, deal with those sorts of issues, and that they make sure that the activities are co-ordinated, that our policies are consistent and that we are sharing information.

  103. Could I ask the officer's rank?
  (Mr McQuillan) She is a sergeant.

  104. And does she have any support staff?
  (Mr McQuillan) No.

  105. And she covers the six counties of Northern Ireland?
  (Mr McQuillan) Yes; but her role is to look at the problems and develop policy, with joint policies. The implementation of those policies will then be at local level, and from April of next year that will be through the 29 district commands.

  106. Right; so she can call up resources, in line with policy directives?
  (Mr McQuillan) Yes. She can make sure the two organisations are working hand in hand at the senior levels, that the right, joint policies are in place and implementation of those is then a matter for local delivery.

  107. Thank you. My second question makes me realise that the worldwide reputation for the RUC in skilled analysis and detection is not a false one, because you managed to answer the question before I actually got round to asking it. I was going to ask you a question, following on from the comments in your memorandum about designing out areas of conflict, and you very kindly gave us the information that this was more than just the so-called `peace line' between the Shankill and the Falls, it also involved hedges, so you cannot see who your neighbours are, and various other things. In your memorandum, you referred specifically to sectarian attacks in North Antrim and, I think, Larne. One of the things that concerned many of us, in reading your report, was that the expression "long term options to design out areas of conflict" actually freezes the situation as status quo. Now, designing out areas of conflict can mean different things to different people. Do you mean entirely as a protective device to prevent two communities committing illegal acts on each other, or is there a longer-term agenda in design, but the RUC is involved in?
  (Mr McQuillan) In terms of longer-term agenda, we see working with community groups on both sides of the community, the sectarian divide, in Northern Ireland, as critical to building arrangements for the future. We do, however, have areas of conflict, and if some of those rubbing points between different areas can be designed out in the short to medium term then we believe that is an appropriate course of action. It is not simply a matter of accepting and preserving the status quo, the reality is, if we do not do that, then the short-term conflicts may actually undermine longer-term solutions.

  108. Sorry; the expression you used was "rubbing points", was it?
  (Mr McQuillan) Yes. I mean physical rubbing points, arranged by the two communities coming into contact with each other, coming into direct contact with each other, where there are tensions. Now very often the communities come into direct contact with each other and there are no tensions, they live with each other perfectly normally, as they would in any other part of the UK; but there are areas where there are particular problems, and in those sorts of areas we would try to develop schemes, or work with others who are trying to develop schemes, to reduce those. A major part of that, and the long-term solution, has to be working with the community representatives on both sides so that we actually get away from the causes of conflict, we start to develop relationships and trust; but we do still have the problem of the short-term issues that we really do need to address.

  109. But the `designing out conflict' option is permanent, is it not? I appreciate the `peace walls' come down, but are you talking about, in as much as anything can be permanent, physical barriers?
  (Mr McQuillan) In some cases, yes; not necessarily, but in some cases yes. It might not be just physical barriers. For example, if there is a problem of sectarian conflicts around school buses, it might involve working to ensure that the schedules are right, so that the opportunities for conflict do not arise. So there are all sorts of things that one can do. I think we have to be flexible and imaginative, in some of these issues. But the reality is, if you have a situation where two groups are coming together and they are frequently in conflict then, in our experience, it is extremely difficult to develop long-term solutions, because the reality is the short-term friction will undermine your efforts.

  110. Thank you. Your keen detective's eye will doubtless have noticed that Mr Hunter is writing with a lurid orange pen, where I have a green pen; can I say that this is not in any way indicative of any lack of objectivity on our part, and I am sure we would both be united in thanking you for your detailed answers.
  (Mr McQuillan) Sir, might I make one point, in relation to the rally in the Ulster Hall. You will have noted that there was no representative of the RUC at that rally.

  111. No currently-serving member of the RUC, that is correct.
  (Mr McQuillan) There was no representative of the RUC at that rally, nor, Sir, did the RUC, necessarily, as an organisation, support or agree to that rally.

  112. I was not aware of that. I have to say, the presence of two of the most senior former serving officers of the RUC may have given that impression.
  (Mr McQuillan) Officers have the right, once they are retired, to do what they wish. I just wish to point out that the organisation was not represented at that time.

  113. I think Sir John Gorman actually was elected as an MLA, was he not?
  (Mr McQuillan) I think so, Sir, yes.

  Mr Pound: Thank you very much indeed.

  Chairman: I am looking forward to the possibility that the same liberality will extend to politicians in retirement. Mr Clarke.

  Mr Clarke: Thank you, Mr Chairman. Mr Pound has made me aware that my pen is an even deeper shade of green, but I think it is probably Lincoln green.

  Mr Beggs: There are 40 shades.

Mr Clarke

  114. Mr McQuillan, I am sure the Committee can well understand the difficulty you have with precise figures, but one of your comments earlier on, when we were talking about criminal activity and intimidation related to criminal activity, particularly in areas dominated by paramilitary organisations, you said that there had been a massive increase. And, I think it would be fair to say, in many of the answers to the questions, you have focused your views on criminal activity within those areas dominated by paramilitary organisations, be they through feuds or be they for other reasons. For the record, what prevents the RUC getting a stronger handle on criminal activity, such as drug supply and protection rackets, within those areas?
  (Mr McQuillan) I think there is a series of issues there; again, it is a complex issue. One of the reasons why I have taken the line that I have is, in my written memorandum, at paragraph 30, we show, for example, the pattern of paramilitary shootings, and that shows very significant increases over the last few years, and, indeed, that there are signs that, for example, on the Republican side, those are turned on and off like a tap for various political reasons; when they wish to make a point, they go up. In terms of keeping control of crime, and why the RUC has not been able to deal with that as effectively, as I said, first of all, Northern Ireland has a relatively low level of reported crime, and I think the British Crime Survey would tend to support the view that it actually has a relatively low level of crime compared with the rest of the UK. So it is not a question that crime is out of control. The key to resolving problems of crime in any community is to work with the community to address the real problems, and there is no doubt that in some areas there are barriers to doing that. It is one thing to work with the community in dealing with crime in their area where the criminals are individuals living in the area, it is quite another where there are organised paramilitary groups. On both sides of the community in Northern Ireland, these organisations are basically organised crime syndicates, they are involved in massive levels of organised crime, ranging from smuggling, counterfeiting, they smuggle fuel, alcohol, tobacco, intimidation, extortion, armed robbery, hijacking of high-value goods; that is how they make their money, and they run it as a commercial business. I think we share the problems, as any of our colleagues on the mainland, in the rest of the UK, do, or, indeed, the Irish Republic, in terms of breaking into those sorts of cartels; it is extremely difficult, it is extremely difficult to get witnesses, and that means that we are forced to rely on intelligence and pre-emptive operations now. We are quite successful in that, but it does mean it limits our ability to deal with those crimes. We need to build up to a situation where people are more prepared to assist us in communities across Northern Ireland and have the confidence that they can do so, and that is our objective.

  115. I think it is quite obvious what the physical barriers are to you carrying out an effective police policy within certain areas, but if we take your comments, where you said earlier on that Northern Ireland, rightly so, is a pretty law-abiding Province, in the main, does that not mean it should be easier for you to focus your attention on cutting off drug supply to those areas where there is the majority of the problem?
  (Mr McQuillan) We have done that; and one of the difficulties is, the crime problems in Northern Ireland are not spread uniformly across Northern Ireland. The reality is that the vast majority of the Province is a very, very low crime area, and the crime problems are at their peak in the areas where the paramilitaries are probably strongest; so that is the general pattern, so the two go hand in hand. In terms of cutting off the supply of drugs, I believe we have been quite successful in that. If you look at the figures for arrests in connection with drugs then, again, we, I think, are showing significant increases year on year. Particularly, we have focused recently, in the last two years, on heroin, and again we have been very successful in that, we have made a number of seizures; but the reality is that the organised groups are involved in drug-smuggling and if we cut off one source of supply they will resupply from another source. And, therefore, it maintains a consistent effort, it is really basically an issue of attrition of those groups to wear them down to the point where they cannot continue functioning in that way.

  116. I think that is probably a mix of encouraging and not so encouraging news?
  (Mr McQuillan) I think it is encouraging. I think there is a real opportunity there to drive this forward; and, indeed, the Minister of State, Mr Ingram, has recently taken a very strong and very personal interest in this, and is attacking that problem with his, if I may say so, Sir, customary vigour, and we will be delighted to play a part in that.

  117. Thank you. Just moving on. Paragraph 32 of your memorandum paints a very depressing picture indeed of the reluctance of individuals to co-operate with the police, and it goes further because it talks about their willingness to co-operate with the attackers, usually, with those who hand out beatings, with people reporting to be beaten. What initiatives does the RUC plan, or are carrying out at present, to seek to overcome that?
  (Mr McQuillan) I think all that we can do to try to overcome that is to build public confidence, first of all, in the overall police service, to undermine the willingness of the wider community to tolerate this type of activity in their communities. I believe the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to see a normal civil society, and part of a normal civil society is a criminal justice system that deals with people by due process, and an effective police service to ensure that those people are brought before the courts, with proper evidence. I think our objective is to develop our service, to provide the best possible service we can, to provide the most effective service we can, and to undermine any level of support that there is within communities for those types of atrocities. That is the only long-term solution to this. At the same time, through that, we believe that we can obtain higher levels of support from communities in the most difficult areas and that we can then translate that into further undermining the position of these paramilitary groups. It will not be easy, it is a long-term issue, but I believe we have to push that through.

  118. Would it be reasonable, therefore, to say, if that is the long-term view, that, for the foreseeable future, policing, in a sense, in some parts of Northern Ireland, is still very much in the hands of the paramilitaries?
  (Mr McQuillan) No, I would not say that policing was very much in the hands of the paramilitaries. The paramilitaries use these beatings, these attacks, as a means of exerting control; and one of the reasons that we believe that the number of attacks is going up is that the paramilitaries, in some senses, feel things slipping away from them. And, in some senses, paradoxically, that might be a positive thing, that they are concerned about maintaining their position, as they see it, within communities. I think we, as a police service, have to work very closely with people on all sides of the community, from all areas, to try to further undermine that and try to further undermine with the confidence in and support for the police service of Northern Ireland.

  119. One last question, in respect of paragraph 29 of the memorandum, which talks about victims committing alleged offences, they have no trial and no appeal. Whilst accepting that as fact, would you comment on reports that are fed to us, as a Committee and as individuals, that in some parts of Northern Ireland, particularly those estates dominated by paramilitary organisations, there are illegal trials, or trials of sorts, where individuals are asked to report to officers of paramilitaries to undertake a form of trial, or to have their crimes read to them?
  (Mr McQuillan) I think there is a series of issues there. There are, in a number of areas, or there have been set up in a number of areas, what are euphemistically called `restorative justice schemes'; some of them established by individuals with very good intent and good bona fides, who are interested in this area and believe it is a way forward, and others where there may be a paramilitary element in them. So that is one element to it, which is a sort of an attempt to create a parallel criminal justice system. Additionally, there are suggestions that there have been almost kangaroo courts held. In our experience, quite frankly, the kangaroo courts do not happen, individuals are quite simply contacted and told that "it has been decided that you have done something; you are to be punished for it," and they are given the option of reporting and having the punishment carried out, or, alternatively, they are simply taken out of their home one night, or men have raided their home, and just beaten up, or shot. There is no attempt whatsoever to put any sort of gloss on the attack.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 19 July 2001