Amnesty should know this: the RUC fought for human rights harder than any campaign group

A policeman stands at the scene of the Loughinisland massacre
A policeman stands at the scene of the Loughinisland massacre
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Recent public comments by representatives of Amnesty International UK have caused concern and hurt amongst former members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Despite our reasoned request these remarks have not been withdrawn.

The public are entitled to know why our Association believes so strongly that Amnesty’s remarks are not only offensive but are completely without foundation.

The Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association (NIRPOA) has never sought to challenge the proposition that the failure to bring to trial the perpetrators of the heinous murder of six innocent civilians at Loughinisland in June 1994 is a continuing tragedy for the families of the victims.

Support for the victims of terrorism – including the Loughinisland families – came from the police officers who put their lives at risk to protect the community and to investigate crimes.

Regrettably the fact is that they were not always successful in either endeavour.

But they did far more for human rights in Northern Ireland than any non-governmental organisation (NGO) or armchair critic ever did.

Amnesty have made no attempt to justify their remarks in light of specific questions which were raised by NIRPOA.

Amnesty stated: “The report by the Police Ombudsman [PONI] into the Loughinisland massacre noted that there was, undeniably, significant wrongdoing by the RUC following the murder of six innocent men by the UVF in 1994.”

On what basis can Amnesty decree that any controversial pronouncement is “undeniable”?

The Association strongly refutes the erroneous assertions made by PONI.

Furthermore NIRPOA disputes the supposed authority by which PONI purports to “note” any such thing.

Why does Amnesty contradict both PONI and the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to criminal charges? “Significant wrongdoing” in relation to murder should be adjudicated in the courts, yet PONI and the Director of Public Prosecutions both agreed that there was no evidence upon which to base any prosecution of any police officer, serving or retired.

Amnesty seek to hide behind PONI’s notorious, discredited and partially withdrawn report to justify their slur.

But what PONI actually said in the relevant part of his report was: “Many of the individual issues which I have identified in this report, including the protection of informants through both wilful acts and the passive turning of a blind eye, catastrophic failures in police investigations and the destruction of records are in themselves evidence of collusion as defined by Judge Smithwick. When viewed collectively I have no hesitation in unambiguously determining that collusion is a significant feature of the Loughinisland murders”.

The facts, of course, are rather different.

Protection of informants was never an issue in relation to the Loughinisland investigation.

There were tangential matters which PONI neither substantiated nor effectively linked to Loughinisland. ‘Protection of informants’ is a complete red herring.

The so-called “catastrophic failures in police investigations” is a choice of words which is intended to create an impression. The failure to make the culprits amenable is naturally regarded by the relatives of the victims as catastrophic; and the disappointment is shared by all police officers.

But those strands of PONI’s report regarding “catastrophic failures”, have been shown by court proceedings to be baseless; and they have been withdrawn by PONI in a massive climbdown.

PONI is wrong to cite Judge Smithwick as any basis for his own ‘findings’.

Smithwick held hearings in open court, according to prescribed procedures. He heard evidence from interested parties which could be tested by cross-examination. He arrived at conclusions on the basis of due process.

No such processes attended the activities of PONI, who carried out his ‘investigation’ in secret and then came to conclusions in a manner which was heavily criticised by Mr Justice McCloskey in his determination of our Judicial Review.

We accept that it is appropriate for Amnesty to seek to challenge the organs of the state in support of the human rights of the citizens. But PONI and his office is an organ of the state. NIRPOA members are all retired and enjoy the status of civilian citizens.

PONI is not an ‘ombudsman’ in the normal sense of the word, but rather exercises all the functions of a chief constable of police.

This includes the power to arrest and detain suspects; to interview them under caution and make recommendations as to prosecution; to search their homes; to seize for evidential purposes their possessions; and to deploy against these citizens techniques such as covert surveillance and interception of communications.

There is no mechanism for making a complaint against PONI for any conduct (other than criminal) by the post-holder or his officials.

This absence from the legislation, which NIRPOA has been seeking to have remedied for over 12 years, is in breach of Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

We do not seek to compete with the Loughinisland families in relation to their status as victims. Many of our own members are the victims of terrorism, either through the loss of loved ones or colleagues or through bearing permanent physical and mental scars as a result of their service to the community.

We do however say that the current arrangements for dealing with legacy issues have led to manifest injustices to our members and their families and to the memory of deceased colleagues.

Perhaps Amnesty would like to take up our cause – to assist the citizen against the power of the state?

~ Raymond Fitzsimons is the chairman of the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association