Policing in Northern Ireland: Policing, the RUC and the Patten Commission: What do You want?

19 October 1998

Policing is one of the most important issues we face in Northern Ireland. The Commission on Policing is due to make recommendations before next Summer. Community Dialogue invite you to gather a group together to discuss policing and feed us back your answers:

We will forward these to the Commission which is still open to receiving views, and to the party spokespersons in the Assembly.

You may like to discuss the questions within your own tradition or in a mixed group. With each answer ask yourself and your group:

  • Are your ideas workable?
  • Are they just?
  • Do they give a fair chance to all, or are they discriminatory?
  • Have you taken into account the feelings of those from other traditions?
A. The RUC

Here are four very different views of the RUC:

A. `The RUC are a professional police force. They stood up against terrorists for 30 years. They have upheld law and order. They are our brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. We know them, we play golf and do business with them. They never bothered anyone unless they were criminals'.

B. `The RUC should be abolished. They were part of the British Government's repression of Nationalists in Northern Ireland. They took part in state executions. They colluded with Loyalist murderers. They are an all-Unionist force and so have no place in the future of Northern Ireland'.

C. Nationalists think they're the only ones who suffer from the police. They're wrong. We suffer from them all the time. They back Sinn Fein's agenda. They block Protestant marches. They beat up our young people. And you never hear any talk about this on the media. The Protestant victims are invisible'.

D. `We in the RUC are political pawns, kicked around by both sides. They use us when they need us and hate us when they don't. Over 350 of our colleagues have been murdered. We have been burnt out of our homes, and our families live in fear. We're piggy in
the middle at Drumcree. We never get any recognition'.

What do you think of the RUC? In your answer take account of the feelings of groups who differ from you.

B. Key issues about policing in the future
If we are to move forward in Northern Ireland we need to find some agreement over policing. We could spend all our time arguing about the past. However, it may be more useful first to ask what we really need from a police service and secondly what is the best way to provide this. That is what this pamphlet tries to do. But remember, the 'us' asking this question is all of us with all our different traditions. So we need answers which all of us find respectful, no matter what our background is.

1. Priorities:
Some of the issues ordinary police work deals with are:
-- drug abuse;
-- traffic control;
-- anti-social behaviour;
-- checking broken windows in Northern Ireland Housing Eecutive houses;
-- missing persons;
-- joy riders;
-- domestic violence;
-- child abuse.

Question: What do you want a police service to do in future?

2. Membership:

A. Numbers
The RUC -- full-time and part time Reserve -- has 13,456 members. Britain has pproximately 1 police officer to 400 people in the population, Northern Ireland has about 1 to 120. If we had the same ratio here we would have about 4500 officers. That would mean a reduction of 9000.

B. Groups represented in police:
At the moment the RUC is approximately 93% Protestant and 7%Catholic; About 90% are male and 10% female;Other minorities are under-represented such as Travellers, gays, lesbians and Ethnic minorities like South-East Asians; A minority of police officers come from deprived housing estates.


  • Do we need to reduce the numbers in the police?
  • If so, how would you make sure the police come from all the different groups in society?
  • Some people would bar paramilitaries, others current members of the RUC: what do you think?
  • Some people think police officers need university degrees. Do you agree?
  • Some think many more police recruits should come from deprived backgrounds, a) because this would
    help with unemployment. (The police in the future are likely to remain one of the biggest employers in
    Northern Ireland), and b) because local people have a better chance of knowing who commits crimes.
    Do you agree or not? If so, how would you choose local recruits? How would you guard against charges
    of discrimination?
  • Would you yourself join the police. If not, why not? What would need to happen before you could say Yes?
3. The Community and Policing

A. Power
If the police are to do their job without political interference they have to be independent. At the same time the community need a role in deciding priorities.


  • Do you think the police have too much power under present laws (e.g. they can detain you for up to seven
    days and strip search you without bringing you before a court).
  • Will these powers encourage abuse? Do you think the police will need extra powers in the future, for example
    to deal with drug barons?
  • Should the police always be armed? If not, how would you ask them to deal with armed criminals?
B. Community Policing
Community policing means different things to different people.
Here are three different understandings:

a) The community control the police;
b) The police choose to listen to the community if it suits them;
c) The community and the police work in partnership.

-- What do you mean by community policing?
-- How would you deal with the tension between giving the police independence on the one hand, and giving the local community real power over decisions on the other?
-- Should paid community representatives accompany police as they do their work, both to observe the police and to build relationships between them and the community?

C. Cooperation
The police cannot do their job without the support of the local community. If the community is unwilling to help, criminals get off scot free. Police Community Liaison Committees, which are made up of local police officers and community representatives, in theory are meant to help co-operation.


  • How do you think the police and the community can co-operate in the future?
  • Do you think Community Liaison Committees could help?
  • Would you join one?
  • In the future would you help the police fight crime by giving evidence in court or by giving information?
    If not, how can they do the job you want them to do?
4. Identity
The people of Northern Ireland have many identities, the most prominent being British and Irish.


  • Do you think the different identities in Northern Ireland should be reflected in the police service?
  • Should the police service have a flag and other symbols of identity? If so, what should they be?
  • Should police officers take a promise to serve the community? If so, should there be something in this about identities?
  • Should police officers be required to respect the different cultures, language and identities in Northern Ireland?
  • How should the police be trained? Would you be willing to help with police training in the future?