Call to have SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly removed from Policing Board

Former police officers have written to Naomi Long urging the justice minister to remove Dolores Kelly from the NI Policing Board over her claim the RUC was “sectarian”.

Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 6:35 am
Updated Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 9:27 am
A Royal Ulster Constabulary patrol in Belfast in the late 1990s.Photo: Stephen Davison/Pacemaker

The NI Retired Police Officers’ Association (NIRPOA) was angered earlier this month when the SDLP MLA said the current Police Service of Northern Ireland was a “significant departure from the institutionalised sectarianism represented by the RUC”.

In response, the NIRPOA penned an open letter to Mrs Kelly, calling on her to withdraw the comments and to apologise “for the gross offence... caused to the thousands of members of the RUC GC who served this community in the most challenging of times”.

However, she stood over the remarks, saying her party “has previously paid tribute to the sacrifices made by many RUC officers and their families,” but again highlighted what she claimed were “severe institutional problems” within the RUC.

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SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly

In the absence of an apology, the NIRPOA has now written to Mrs Long, describing the MLA’s comments as casting “a toxic shadow of sectarianism” over the force that was transformed into the PSNI in 2001.

One ex-RUC member who spoke to the News Letter said there is a “feeling of disgust” at how the RUC’s reputation “is being demonised without evidence to back up the claims,” being made.

In the letter to Naomi Long, the NIRPOA said: “We represent, and hold dear, the memory of over 300 Officers who were murdered, simply because they were members of the RUC. Catholic, Protestant and non-subscriber.

“Dolores Kelly’s words cast a toxic shadow of sectarianism over the proud history of the RUC – an organisation with imperfect men and women but who stood foursquare in support of peace and human rights, long before it was fashionable to do so... and despite the failures of the SDLP to support policing in Northern Ireland.

“She has shown a profound lack of leadership and has failed to promote the values we would expect from a public office holder. In our view she has shown herself to be unfit to discharge the duties of the Policing Board and we invite you to exercise your powers... to remove Mrs Kelly from the NI Policing Board.

The letter adds: “Unlike any UK police service, the RUC GC was subjected to an inordinate amount of external scrutiny and examination, including the holding of a number of public inquiries (Nelson, Wright, Hamill) as well as the De Silva review of the murder of Pat Finucane.

“Despite the multiplicity of inquiries, reports, reviews and examination, most of which had unfettered access to RUC documentation, no report ever made a finding of ‘institutional sectarianism’.

“Now, without investigation, inquiry or examination, without the limitations of due diligence and with no concerns about accuracy, fact or context, Mrs Kelly has pronounced her own sweeping and unfounded conclusions.

“In her public commentary she have shown a clear prejudice towards the RUC, based on personal opinion and not grounded on facts, evidence or scrutiny;

“Dolores Kelly is a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board and as such holds public office. She is bound by the Nolan Principles on public life.

“The NIRPOA hold the view that Mrs Kelly is in breach of a number of these principles and as such, is ‘unfit to discharge the functions of the Board.’”

The letter goes on to say: “Mrs Kelly’s claim of ‘institutional sectarianism’ is in the opinion of many a gross misrepresentation of the culture of the RUC and represents a perspective formed through a narrow and prejudiced prism.

“In speaking without facts, evidence or impartial analysis she has shown a partisanship that is unbecoming the holder of a public office.

“Her actions on this matter has shown a lack of leadership at a time when the public discourse calls for calm and measured actions and words.”

The SDLP has not yet responded to a request for comment on the latest NIRPOA letter.

Mrs Kelly’s response to the previous NIRPOA letter said: “The fact remains that there were severe institutional problems within the RUC and this is a matter of public record.

“That many retired police officers continue to refuse to cooperate with legacy investigations to this day speaks for itself.

“The transformation of the RUC to the PSNI has been an outstanding success and whilst policing continues to be challenging I think the hard work and efforts of the those involved in implementing Patten’s recommendations deserve credit.”

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice said: “We can confirm that a letter has just been received from the NI Retired Police Officers Association and a response will be provided in due course.”

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