THE senior PSNI officer heavily criticised over plans to change the name of the RUC Athletic Association has defended his support for the move.
Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr – the current RUC AA chairman – described many of his critics’ assertions as an “unfair and inaccurate reflection” of the situation.
The association’s members are meeting today to vote on the controversial proposal to rename the RUC AA as the Police Athletic Association Northern Ireland.
Earlier this month Mr Kerr wrote to members urging them to approve the name change in order to “secure grants on which this association is financially dependent”.
The letter went on to say that the very future of the association could be in jeopardy if the RUC name remained.
It provoked a furious backlash from former RUC officers — including many who were involved in raising money to build the Newforge sports club in south Belfast.
On Tuesday, First Minister Peter Robinson rejected claims that future government funding was dependent on dropping the RUC title.
However, Mr Kerr has quoted the Queen, speaking on her visit to Dublin last year, saying she provided “profound guidance” when speaking of the need to “bow to the past but not be bound by it”.
The police chief said: “It is grossly unfair to suggest that this proposal is an attempt to airbrush former RUC officers’ contributions. This is not about symbolism or signs, and it is not about politics or disrespecting the past.”
He said the proposal was a recognition that the sporting association of the police family needs to reflect the transition to the PSNI more than 10 years since its formation.
Mr Kerr said: “Therefore, the [News Letter] article’s assertion that the vote is being put on the agenda in ‘undue haste’ is frankly absurd.”
Describing the new name as “a more generic and inclusive title”, the chairman said it would make the association “more comfortable for all colleagues and friends, officers and staff, past present and future”.
“Furthermore, the more generic Police Athletic Association Northern Ireland is the title by which the association was known in the 1930s and 1940s, and any suggestion we are disrespecting the past clearly demonstrates little appreciation of the history of the association.”
Speaking yesterday, Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt described the proposal as “offensive”.
He said: “At a time when it appears a government department is allowing an application for European funding for a shrine to the IRA in south Armagh, this is just another example of how we are in danger of rewriting history, and disrespecting the sacrifices of the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to defend their families, communities and society.”