Frank exchanges over Catholic RUC recruits

editorial image

A PROPOSAL that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in 1982 take the lead in encouraging Catholic recruitment to the RUC sparked frank discussions within the Civil Service, a newly-released file shows.

The suggestion was made to James Prior at Stormont Castle when he met the Police Authority, which then ran the police.

A minute of the December 1981 meeting shows that two members of the authority, Mr CW Scoular and Mrs MT Gallagher, drew Mr Prior’s attention “to the importance of encouraging members of the minority community to join the RUC”.

“Very few were now being recruited, with the result that in 10 or 15 years’ time there would be far too few Roman Catholics in senior positions,” the two members are reported to have said.

Members of the authority had urged the Catholic hierarchy to encourage recruitment but this was difficult when the force was seen “to lack impartiality”.

The pair asked Mr Prior to help encourage Catholic recruitment.

Mr Prior is said to have “agreed wholly with the importance of attracting Catholics and noted with interest the suggestion that he might help to give a lead”.

Following the meeting, Mr Prior seeks advice from officials on the suggestion.

In January, David Blatherwick of the political affairs division expresses doubt that appeals from Mr Prior would help.

“The key to increased recruitment is the endorsement of the hierarchy and Catholic leaders such as the SDLP,” he says.

Mr Blatherwick instead suggests that greater publicity be given to “the fact that Catholics already hold senior posts within the RUC”. The police, he says, “are widely regarded among the minority as a Unionist/ Protestant force”.

An official writing from London, JA Marshall, suggests that Mr Prior express complete confidence in the RUC, but recognise the perception that it is biased.

Mr Marshall suggests that Mr Prior say that it is “illogical of the minority ... to claim that the RUC is biased because it is primarily Protestant and to discourage members of the minority community from joining ... which is the only way it could more truly reflect” the whole community.

“[Mr Prior] therefore appeals to Catholics as a whole to ... join the RUC and to Catholic politicians in particular to recognise the transformation which has taken place from the days of the ‘B’ Specials ...”

Another official, PWJ Buxton, agrees with Mr Marshall’s suggestion, but also expresses his belief that some Catholics already approve of the RUC and “would like to join the force if they felt it was safe”.

Days later, on January 11, Mr JN Blelloch observes that some part of the Catholic community “simply rejects the institutions of the state of the UK”.

He doubts appeals by Mr Prior will change attitudes, and warns colleagues to “be wary of something which is likely to be at best ineffective, and at worst vulnerable to ridicule as simply not recognising the facts of Northern Ireland life”.

A minute by C Radcliffe, of Police Division B, shares “the pessimistic view about the likely response of the Catholic community to any appeal to join the RUC”.

But Mr Radcliffe does not agree that an appeal risks ridicule, and says that even if it failed, it would demonstrate a commitment “to attracting Catholic recruits”.

He draws up the outline of a possible statement and forwards it to Mr Prior’s private secretary SW Boys Smith on April 1.

However, the divide over the best approach deepens.

An official, DJ Wyatt, writes to Mr Boys Smith bluntly: “This is bad advice at this time.”

It will, he predicts, prompt the SDLP to say that Catholics cannot support the RUC until they have a guaranteed role in the institutions of the state. Unionists will then say that “it is absurd that the Government should expect [them] to co-operate in a devolved assembly with such people”.

“Thus at the very moment when we are trying to get the two sides together in a devolved assembly we shall have raised gratuitously a most divisive issue,” he writes.

Another official adds a handwritten note on Mr Wyatt’s memo: “I agree.”

But a further note, this time from Mr Buxton explaining the logic behind the draft statement but conceding that such a statement is unlikely to happen, includes a handwritten comment from another official which appears to allude to the raised temperatures that the exchange has provoked: “My head goes beneath the parapet,” says the scrawl, signed with initials that are difficult to decipher.

The file closes with a response to a request to officials by the junior minister Lord Gowrie for a breakdown of RUC recruitment by religious denomination.

Such data has not been collected since 1970 comes the reply, although the rough estimate is that 8 to 10 per cent of the RUC is Catholic.