Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  120. It is reasonable to assume though that if people are reporting for punishment then they could just as likely report to a trial, should one be set up?
  (Mr McQuillan) One could assume that. I am not aware, and I would be aware from intelligence, of that happening on any sort of significant scale. Again, a proportion of people report; a proportion of people, when they find out, just run away; and a proportion of people do not get the opportunity to run away because people suddenly raid their house, with weapons, and either beat them up or shoot them.

Mr Thompson

  121. Good afternoon, Mr McQuillan. Just to go back to Mr McKenna. Would you agree with me that when this rally took place in the Ulster Hall, where Mr Donaldson was welcomed, that, in fact, at that time, there was no public knowledge that there would be any accusations, or indeed anything, against Mr McKenna?
  (Mr McQuillan) I am not aware of any public knowledge of that, at that stage.

  122. Would you not think that is a very sad situation and is a reflection of the lack of security in Northern Ireland, when the security forces cannot protect people in their own house?
  (Mr McQuillan) I am a police officer. I joined this job to protect people. I am conscious that these are some of our mistakes, or some of our failures. The reality is that we cannot protect everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we simply do not have the resources to do it. And what we can do is ensure that within those resources we do everything possible, and that is what we do do.

  123. You do not think that there would be a certain amount of apathy among the police, for example, to say, "There are so many cars stolen, this is a part of life and we have to accept it; beatings go on, people are expelled from their houses, and this kind of has to be accepted as well"? Is there a determination to clean out of Northern Ireland this type of activity?
  (Mr McQuillan) I do not detect, in the command of the RUC, or the officers of the RUC, any apathy towards protecting people in Northern Ireland, or any acceptance that basically just a crime happens. The officers I talk to are determined to try to find better ways to work, better ways of doing things to tackle these crime problems. Police officers are realistic, they know that they cannot deal with everything and therefore they have to focus resources on some issues; but very high up our agenda, at every stage, is doing what we can to tackle the paramilitary organisations, to tackle terrorism and to tackle the most serious forms of crime, and these all fall into that category, in my view.

  124. Is it problems relating to the police, are there not enough resources, are there not enough personnel, or are there some political restraints perhaps on them because of the peace process?
  (Mr McQuillan) There are always problems of resources, Sir. The reality we face is that, because of the terrorist threat, there are still major commitments that the RUC has to undertake, and those are a very, very heavy drain on resources. In terms of political constraints, I have been an Assistant Chief Constable in the RUC now for something like two and a half years, and I have not seen evidence of any political constraints upon us, in terms of tackling these issues; in my experience, that is not the way Government operates. At the moment, we have operational independence, the new Police Act slightly redefines it as `operational responsibility', but the reality is that we work very closely with community leaders, we work very closely with the Police Authority, we have a Policing Plan, but everybody we talk to regards these as very high priority issues, and they are very high priority issues for us, and I believe they are very high priority issues for Government too.

  125. You are dealing with beatings and shootings and expulsions.
  (Mr McQuillan) Yes, Sir.

  126. Are there records; many people have been arrested for these types of activity, and what convictions have there been in relation to them, over, say, the last three years?
  (Mr McQuillan) I can look and see if there are reliable figures for that. I can tell you that our success rate, in terms of these specific intimidations, is very poor; that is not because of a lack of focus on them, it is, in part, because of difficulties in obtaining reliable evidence. And, very often, if I can give you an example of that, as the Committee, I believe, is aware, some 400 people have been forced to move in Belfast as a result of the feuds within the Loyalist organisations. I believe that fewer than 40 of those have reported intimidation to police, and an even smaller percentage of them have been prepared to make statements; we persistently find that. I mentioned the problems in Larne. In Larne, over the last year, 1999, we arrested something like 50 people and charged them in connection with sectarian attacks; a large number of those finished up in court, but a number of prosecutions in court failed because witnesses simply did not turn up, or when they did turn up their evidence was not of sufficient weight. So there are real difficulties, yes, Sir.

  127. Is there no other alternative?
  (Mr McQuillan) The alternative is for us to do everything that we can to get the best evidence, and that includes things like CCTV systems, and we do do that in appropriate cases. We have had situations where, for example, people are intimidated in their homes; we cannot get reliable evidence from them, we cannot get reliable witnesses from the community. We have installed CCTV cameras in houses, we put in specific operations to try to catch the culprits, and a number of those have been successful. In terms of paramilitary beatings, etc., it is much more difficult, because so many of the people, many of the victims of those, are not prepared to co-operate with us in any way.

  128. The figures in the memorandum for the proportion of house purchases by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive under the SPED scheme attributable to requests from police officers show a welcome fall, alongside an overall continuing trend of reduced purchases under the scheme. To what is this attributed? Is it now more generally accepted to have a police officer as a neighbour in Northern Ireland?
  (Mr McQuillan) I think what that is attributed to is two things. The big increase in the number of RUC expulsions, expulsions of RUC officers, accompanied the rise in violence around Drumcree, in the mid nineties. I think that has now levelled out. The officers who were most prominent and most exposed have probably actually moved home, so in a sense they are not there to be expelled any more. So I think that is the major answer to that. I think the reality is that a lot of those things are quietening down again, as, thankfully, over the last 18 months, the overall levels of violence associated with the Drumcree period have stabilised; stabilised at an unacceptably high level, can I say, but they have stabilised.

  129. Do your colleagues in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland experience the same types of difficulties, albeit not so extreme, with self-appointed local groups seeking to control housing estates for their own purposes? What liaison do you have on these matters with other forces in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland?
  (Mr McQuillan) I think, Sir, that they do not experience them on the same scale. I actually spent around three years working as an Assistant Chief Constable in Heddlu Gwent Police, in Wales. I had quite extensive contacts with colleagues in the rest of the UK, and in my experience these are problems that occur, particularly in inner-city areas, where you have gang cultures, in some areas you have drugs cartels who fight for territory. So the answer is, yes, we do experience common problems. Where possible, we are plugged into the various national ACPO structures, the Association of Chief Police Officers; we look at all the material that ACPO is producing, we look at the strategies that are being developed in other areas, and if we can apply them we will be delighted to take them forward. The difficulty in Northern Ireland, I think, is that our problem has very specific characteristics, not least the overwhelming presence of firearms, and that lends a particular dimension to it. But the bottom line is we do look at what is going on, the rest of the UK, worldwide, actually, in terms of strategies that might be used, and we try to adapt those to our circumstances.

  Mr Thompson: Thank you very much.

Mr Barnes

  130. First of all, I am going to apologise for arriving late. I asked a question earlier, but I fed off Mr McCabe, so I knew that what I was asking was relevant to the question. If I am now asking questions which have already been dealt with, and you feel that they have been dealt with satisfactorily, just tell me that and I can read those details in the record later. In the RUC evidence, there were six areas that were covered, and, although an area of interest to me is not specifically mentioned, I realise it was touched upon in other ways, and that is areas in which many of the IRA are seeking to control the Catholic community, and a Loyalist paramilitary group are doing the same within the Protestant community. I know that there are sections in the evidence that you presented which are about the alleged criminal activity, and that is an area in which these linked community connections, as it were, are liable to arise. And then you also talk about disputes between paramilitary groups, that were fighting, as they were on the Loyalist side maybe, for the same territory and are wanting to become prominent in those areas. But I was a bit surprised that there was no concentration purely upon the notion that there might be cases in which really what a lot of it is about is controlling your own patch and your own community and you want groups of people who are fairly quiet and subservient towards that, but then allows all sorts of other activities and racketeering to take place. Is that as common as I am suggesting?
  (Mr McQuillan) Yes, I agree completely with what you are saying, and that was one of the senses that I had intended to try to convey in the written paper, and if we have missed that I must apologise. Because, clearly, as I have said, in response to some of the earlier questions, the key problem in all of this is paramilitarism and the paramilitary groups who are seeking to defend and expand their spheres of influence in these communities for their own purposes, and they behave as organised crime cartels, they are organised crime cartels; and that is exactly the issue, Sir.

  131. And is that really more serious nowadays than the areas you talk about, about victims of paramilitary feuds, between paramilitary groups on the two sides of the community?
  (Mr McQuillan) There are two broad issues, Sir. There has been a long-term pattern of this attempt by the paramilitary groups to maintain and extend their influence in their communities; superimposed upon that, this last 18 months, we have had this massive increase in these issues because of the in-fighting among the Loyalist paramilitary groups. So that is the situation that we face. Hopefully, that situation can be brought back under control and be seen as short-term; but it has been a short-term flare-up, in terms of that, which has led to a number of murders this year.

  132. My next question links in with what I was saying before, and it might have been that you touched on it earlier, but, in response to Mr Clarke, you raised the question of restorative justice, because what sometimes is argued is that the ways of weaning the paramilitaries away from some of this activity, if there has been some difficulty in the RUC getting into a particular area, is to try to develop a different pattern of operations, in which the criminal, or however you decide the criminal, and the person who has suffered are brought together. What is your general attitude about that, are there different patterns that have been suggested of restorative justice which it might be more possible for the RUC to work with than others?
  (Mr McQuillan) I think the RUC's broad position is that we strongly support the development of effective restorative justice schemes in Northern Ireland, and we will do everything that we can as a police service to support and assist the development of those. We believe they are a very effective way of dealing with criminals, particularly first-time offenders, and particularly young offenders, who commit the bulk of crime, and certainly commit the bulk of those offences that most affect the quality of life and people. So we are very strongly supportive of that process. We believe that that must be part of the overall criminal justice system of Northern Ireland, that it must have legitimacy, be done through legitimate channels, and that there must be appropriate protection for all those involved, including both the victims and the potential offenders; and that was what we wanted to say, and that is what we will be working with Government to achieve.

  133. What is the stage of development towards what you see as these effective schemes and schemes that operate within the justice system?
  (Mr McQuillan) There is no legal framework for these in Northern Ireland at the present time. However, the RUC has set up a number of restorative justice schemes, working in partnership with various agencies, and we are keen and intend to expand those throughout Northern Ireland as quickly as possible. In addition, we are currently waiting to see the Government publish its response to the Criminal Justice Review, which was initiated by the Belfast Agreement, and that recommended a strong emphasis on restorative justice as part of the criminal justice system, and we hope that that will be included in the Government's proposals, and we would strongly support that. At the moment, we are trying to work with partners across the community in developing partnership schemes that do not have a statutory basis, but which we can do through the normal way that we have always administered juvenile cautions, for example, and we hope that the development of official schemes will take this forward. There are, however, a number of unofficial schemes, organised by groups on both sides of the community, and those are in predominantly strong Loyalist or Nationalist areas, and the groups concerned are involved in work with all sorts of young people. We have made it clear that we would prefer to see a clear, legitimate, statutory scheme which is set up by Government.

  134. For a while, I have been interested in problems about intimidation and beatings, and, on the other hand, I am quite aware of many of the difficulties that the police have faced over this period of terrorism. But it was not until I read your document the sort of two parts of my mind linked up with each other, and I realised that when we are talking about intimidation and people being placed into exile, and internal exile, we are also talking about the police, because they themselves face these experiences. It might have been raised, I do not know; have you anything further to say on that?
  (Mr McQuillan) Over the years, there has been a steady pattern of intimidation of, or threats to, police officers, not just police officers, prison officers and members of the Royal Irish Regiment as well, and in some cases Government officials, and there has been a steady drip, drip, drip of individuals being forced to move home because of threats to them, or direct intimidation, attacks in their homes. We saw an upsurge in that in the early nineties, because it has generally, in the past, come from the Republican side, but we saw an upsurge in the nineties because of additional intimidation by Loyalists. But that is absolutely true, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of officers who have been forced to move home at some stage. Additionally, there are even larger numbers who have not been forced to move home, who have stayed put and been determined to stay put, but have still suffered intimidation.

  135. So, at one period, the intimidation would generally come from the Republican side, and being that it was a force that was imbalanced, in terms of Protestants, directed towards them, but then it would move much more to Loyalist pressure that would be evident?
  (Mr McQuillan) I would not say it was because it was a force that had an imbalanced religious composition, it was because people were police officers. For example, I think there is a feeling that those police officers that Republican groups would single out most for intimidation are Catholic officers. But there has been a long-term pattern of targeting, and attacks on officers and attacks on officers' homes and risks to officers' homes, from Republican groups; that pattern continues. On top of that, over a period of about five years, we saw a massive increase in Loyalist groups targeting police officers and intimidating them out of areas, and that was the reason for the hump in the head, from about 1996 on, in the graphs.

  Mr Barnes: Right; thank you.

  Chairman: Mr Beggs's eyebrows moved at one point; do you still want to ask a question?

Mr Beggs

  136. Yes. There is a perception in parts of Northern Ireland that certain individuals may have come into considerable inheritances from illegitimate means. Is there no deliberate campaign by the RUC to target such individuals, make them accountable for their accumulated wealth that they have acquired and demonstrate to the foot soldiers below them that crime does not pay?
  (Mr McQuillan) There is that perception. To tackle that demands a multi-agency approach; and the short answer is that, yes, we are interested in that and we are working on that. It is a long-term proposition; those are major inquiries that take a very long time to come to fruition and need co-operation across the spectrum of Government. We are working on those issues, Sir.

  137. And a further supplementary from me. Is it the fact that, because of the absence of community groups in many parts of Northern Ireland, it is difficult to have good liaison, and as community groups are established, on a cross-community basis, then the task of policing and contact with communities should become more easy, could get better?
  (Mr McQuillan) Yes; and we would actually want to encourage groups, encourage a shared sense of community. I think that is part of the key. One has to be flexible on this, and sometimes the response is actually to encourage groups on both sides and then bring them together. But, ideally, one would want to encourage cross-community groups, and we do a large amount, very often behind the scenes, to try to support and foster those sorts of initiatives in areas all across Northern Ireland, and we get a huge amount of support for that as well from people on all sides of the community. And, as I tried to emphasise earlier on, because when one deals with an issue like this one tends to present all the worst side of society, across Northern Ireland there are thousands of people working very hard on just those sorts of areas to try to make things better.

  Mr Beggs: Thank you.

Mr Barnes

  138. In the evidence that has been submitted, in paragraph 30, it has two charts, one that shows a fall in paramilitary-style assaults, from 1996 to 2000, and the other that shows an increase in paramilitary-style shootings, from 1995; now that might be surprising to numbers of people, that they might have thought that it would be the shootings that would have declined, and the paramilitary assaults that would increase. So I just wanted to check that that was correct, and what it was that you felt was the explanation for it?
  (Mr McQuillan) I think, Sir, if you look at the relative mix, the figures are correct, and what they tend to show is that the increase in shootings is predominantly an increase in shootings by Loyalists, and the overall increase in these sorts of attacks appears predominantly to come from the Loyalist side. Our impression is that since the mid nineties the Loyalist paramilitaries have actually been more active in this sort of area, and we believe, again, it is an attempt to bolster their position within their respective communities. Against that, there has been a background pattern of a continuing significant level of attacks by the major Republican groups. I do not know if that fully explains it. And what we have also seen is, obviously, that the Loyalist groups have been increasing the seriousness of their attacks by using guns as opposed to simple beatings.

  Mr Barnes: Thank you.


  139. Mr McQuillan, I think the transcript will show that you did actually make a reference during your evidence to an increase in the number of paramilitary shootings in the context of recent years. Now the Committee knows that I see almost all human life through a filter of cricket. You have played an Athertonian innings, not only in terms of the length of time you have been at the crease, but also the perfectly admirable way in which you have treated every ball bowled to you on its merits and have given very full and comprehensive answers. The whole Committee is much indebted to you and, indeed, much admiring of your stamina, in terms of the questions we have been raising.
  (Mr McQuillan) I am an RUC officer, Sirs. Thank you very much, Sir. I will endeavour to get the written answers to the questions Members have posed as quickly as possible.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

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