Compensation paid to former RUC officers for hearing loss during the course of their duties may be considerable, but payment was entirely justified if proper protection was not in place to prevent such disability.
The acute hearing loss was suffered by upwards of 10,000 officers, mostly during the 30-year period of the Troubles, and the amount paid in compensation claims totals £135m, almost half of it taken up with legal fees.
In hindsight, a more structured, direct way of assessing and settling the claims would have reduced the final compensation amount, but with officers on one hand advised by their police federation and police authorities challenging each case individually from an opposite direction, it was obvious legal fees would account for a high proportion of money paid out.
As well as firearms’ issues, officers affected suffered additional damage caused by helicopter transport and motor cycle duties and it was clear that proper protection was not in place to prevent gradual and personally damaging hearing impairments.
Predictable political comment has been made on the hefty payouts and it is not surprising that Sinn Fein, with no love for the police either in Northern Ireland or the Republic, is hostile to officers receiving legal entitlement.
But as UUP MLA and former RUC officer Ross Hussey points out that, with a clear negligence on the part of the employer (Police Authority/Policing Board), there are legitimate claims which must be settled if they are validated.
Handling of guns was obligatory for RUC officers in the Troubles. Indeed, the reason why gallant officers had to carry weaponry, as the only UK police service to do so, was because of an ongoing terror threat, mainly orchestrated by the Provisional IRA, Sinn Fein’s allies in the republican movement.
Tragically, 300 RUC officers died in terror-related attacks, but while enforced hearing defects may not be on the same scale in terms of personal suffering, there has to be adequate compensation paid to the victims, policemen and women on lawful duty.