Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Police Federation of Northern Ireland

  The Police Federation for Northern Ireland welcomes this opportunity to give comment to the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. The task of "Dealing with the Past" needs to be addressed by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. As the dominant element in the security forces' response to the terrorism, the Police Service bore the brunt of the prolonged terrorist campaign.

  Police officers understand the mortal risk that accompanies policing almost anywhere in the world. However, in Northern Ireland, police officers were murdered because they were representatives of the State. Secondly, they were targeted on or off duty. Their murder was the terrorist's intention rather than, as would usually happen elsewhere, the officer's death would be incidental or accidental in the commission of a crime. Iraq would be a similar example of the deliberate targeting of police officers for murder as a way of undermining the stability of the State.

  The Police Service suffered as a corporate body, losing 302 officers through terrorist murders, another 70 through suicides (although not necessarily Troubles related) and some 11,500 injured to a greater or less degree. As a result of the effect of the Troubles, the Good Friday Agreement of April 1998 led to the Patten Report, which reformed the Royal Ulster Constabulary into the Police Service of Northern Ireland. While officers embraced change, many also felt that reform was being presented as a rejection of the professionalism and traditions of the RUC.

  The Police Service also suffered a legacy from the Troubles which affected in some degree, the 33,000 officers who passed through its ranks from 1968, many of whom still continue to serve. The officers were affected personally and individually and so too were their families. Inevitably, there has been a physical and emotional price paid by officers and families and it continues to be exacted even now. There are five issues we would respectfully invite the Committee to consider.


  The loss of income occasioned by the death or serious injury to a police officer is compensated through agreed provisions of the Northern Ireland Police Fund and the Police Dependants' Trust. Death in service entitlements are awarded to widows and dependants of murdered officers and injury on duty awards are available to disabled officers both by virtue of the Police Pension Scheme.

  However, officers killed or injured in the pre-1982 period have families who have not fared as well financially as more recent families because of the erosion of the value of the original compensation award. The Northern Ireland Police Fund and the RUC Benevolent Fund have shored up the inadequacy of these early awards but a more structured and permanent response from Government is called for.


  The Police Federation became aware in the early 90s that serious and debilitating psychological illnesses were widespread among serving and retired officers. Following survey work, the Federation launched a Post-traumatic Stress Disorder legal campaign against the Chief Constable.

  The essence of the claim is not that officers came across or were directly involved in traumatic incidents but that management were negligent, in that there was little or no attempt made to assist officers to cope with the psychological distress caused by exposure to incidents. Since World War One, evidence exists on the damage inflicted on combatants or civilians exposed to repeated or even single periods of trauma.

  Currently the Federation's solicitors are pursuing a class action on behalf of 3,000 serving and retired officers for compensation. The Government, as the ultimate paymasters, are resisting the claim in every obstructive way possible by insisting on proof of evidence at every conceivable stage. The Federation has incurred considerable legal and other professional costs which will severely limit the scope of its services should it lose the case. The Federation believes that there is a public interest to the case, in that the Federation was morally obliged to seek redress for its suffering members and that the Government should undertake to waive its rights to recover its legal costs in the event of the Federation losing the case in court. Instead the Government seems engaged in a war of financial attrition. The attitude of the Government lacks compassion or any sense of obligation to officers who had the most horrific experiences while upholding the rule of law. A move to acknowledge a responsibility to meet the plaintiffs' costs would be a welcome acknowledgement of the damage to officers and their families and would be one way of dealing with the past.


  The Federation cannot accept any moral equivalence between those who murdered and those who were their hapless victims. The desire to draw a line under the past through blurring the distinction between perpetrators and victims has the attraction of tidiness but over-eagerness to bring closure will prevent healing through its sheer clumsiness. Measures to commemorate or revere the sacrifice of the police or other murders of the security forces should not be tarnished by crude assertions of claims that the perpetrators of murder and violence were just as much victims as those who were murdered or injured. The Federation finds the idea utterly repellent that a common memorial, event or act, however well meaning, would meet the needs of all those who have died, for whatever motivation or reason, as a result of the Troubles.

  Moves by the Chief Constable, backed by the Government, to investigate through Cold Case Review the murders of the 1,800 civilians and 211 police officers which remain unsolved are warmly supported. While there is little ground for optimism that convictions would follow in many instances, even allowing for recent advances in forensic science, we believe that it is the fresh and sincere attempt to explore the circumstances of each murder which will bring comfort to the surviving families, rather than the prospect of successful prosecution. At a monetary level, given the recent estimates of £25 million for a Cold Case Review, we believe this to be value for money, especially when weighed against the Saville Inquiry and other expensive, if less high profile inquiries, this will prove value for money as well as providing a more constructive response to dealing with the enduring sense of hurt.


  The Federation remains opposed to the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). We are aware that there are numerous variations to the form the Commission or Inquiry body might take but nothing convinces us that within the short term there is a useful model. We believe that the events of the Troubles are too recent for significant forgiveness to be offered and out of which might flow reconciliation. To believe otherwise is to underestimate the depth of grief and bitterness felt by bereaved families and injured innocents. It should not be forgotten that it was decades after the Second World War before there was any general reconciliation by prisoners of war with the Japanese. While the scale of atrocity is different, the horror of many of the paramilitary deeds remains shocking.

  Secondly, Northern Ireland is too small for comfort for people to have confirmed to them that their neighbour fingered their close relative for assassination or even actively participated in the deed.

  Thirdly, and most fundamentally, it is self evident that the struggle, armed or otherwise in how it is pursued, is unresolved and that a TRC would be simply another way for protagonists to carry on the "war". With the granting of early release to terrorist prisoners, any incentive to come forward and tell the "truth" was removed. A further constraint is that police officers cannot be expected to give evidence or intelligence to an TRC on people or events when the information could still become relevant to the enduring conflict.


  On a final point in terms of this paper, the Police Service of Northern Ireland has suffered terribly from a sustained campaign of demonisation from the Republican movement. The wider community held the view that during the Troubles, the Royal Ulster Constabulary held the line against the most ruthless and professional terrorist organisation in the world, so successfully that eventuality the violence was judged to be fruitless. At the same time police efforts were necessarily distracted by having simultaneously to deal with loyalist paramilitary murder gangs. It is only just that the sacrifice and commitment of the RUC was rewarded with the George Cross, a singular award for corporate bravery.

  However, the onslaught on the reputation of the police has not abated, even with the transformation into the PSNI. Far from being regarded as the staunch defendants of law and order, there has been a tendency to allow the police to be deemed from a malicious hindsight as part of the problem of Northern Ireland—as if the organisation had contributed to the intensity of the Troubles rather than promoted the protection of the community. The Police Service has not been without its faults but its commitment has served and continues to serve the people of Northern Ireland extremely well. In the present political uncertainty, the role of the police is undiminished either in scope or centrality to stability. Police officers could be forgiven for being dismayed or even angered by their unsympathetic portrayal in some political quarters. Jingoistic claims of having "got rid of" the Full-Time Reserve, the past Chief Constable, or claims to have hired their own man, are misplaced and undignified and fail to recognise the calibre and professionalism of officers past and present.

  As part of dealing with the past, the Police Service needs to go forward to enjoy the support of the whole community. Any constraints on its ability to do so are a direct consequence of political communities and parties either claiming ownership of the police or preferring to portray them as a hostile and biased instrument of the State.

  The people of Northern Ireland have suffered terribly due to the Troubles, none more so than the officers trying to protect the lives of the innocent and bring justice to our streets. For years, the police have been vilified and abused; now they need and deserve the support of our Government. The time has come for the Government to acknowledge and appreciate what has been sacrificed by acting on the issues which have been highlighted and regularly show their support for the PSNI in helping deliver a stable, peaceful future for the people of Northern Ireland.

23 February 2005

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