One of Northern Ireland’s top judges believed the RUC was “worse and more sectarian” during the 1980s than it had been for decades, according to previously secret papers.
In a private conversation with the Irish ambassador Noel Dorr in 1986, Lord Justice Weir also said the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) existed only to keep its members out of worse mischief than they would get up to on their own.
Earlier this year, Lord Justice Weir presided over a major review of long-delayed coroners’ investigations into legacy killings, including many contentious Troubles deaths, some involving claims of collusion or state wrongdoing.
In a document, marked “Secret”, Mr Dorr wrote to the taoiseach’s office in Dublin that he met Mr Weir – then a QC – at a British Irish Association gathering at Oxford University in January that year.
“Weir was absolutely scathing in his judgment of the UDR (some of whom he has defended in specific cases) and highly critical of the RUC,” he wrote. “He said the UDR was ‘unreformable’.
“He saw it as the direct successor of the old B-Specials and thought that the only reason for its existence was to keep its members out of worse mischief which they would get up to individually.”
Mr Weir was also “quite trenchant” in his criticism of the then RUC Chief Constable Sir John Hermon, reported the Irish ambassador.
When it was suggested that the RUC had become more professional under Sir John’s watch, Mr Weir “would have none of this”, according to the letter.
“He said he knows the police; and the ordinary rank and file recruited in recent years are worse and more sectarian that their equivalents would have been 15 or 20 years ago,” wrote Mr Dorr.
“Twenty years ago, he said, the ‘ordinary decent policeman’ in a police car getting ‘the two finger sign’ from nationalist youths would have driven on and ignored it.
“Today the police in a similar situation would haul those involved into the police station and fingerprint them, etc – thus spreading bad feeling against the police further within the Catholic community.
Dorr added: “Weir had little respect for Hermon and gave no credence to his story of improvement in the force.”
The then barrister told the diplomat that he had obtained a conviction against a British soldier in 1985, “in the teeth of continuing and serious obstruction on the part of the police,” according to the ambassador.
Mr Weir concluded the only remedy for the RUC was to bring in more mid-ranking “mainland” officers to “make it more professional and less sectarian”, Mr Dorr wrote.
Although Mr Weir expressed his views “very trenchantly and repeatedly” in the private conversation on a Saturday night, Mr Dorr said he “spoke much more blandly” the following day during a 10-minute speech to the conference.
Signing off his dispatch, Mr Dorr wrote: “I might mention finally, notwithstanding what might be expected in view of his opinions, that Weir himself made a point in discussion of the fact that he is of a Protestant background and family.
“He thought this was why he had been asked to prosecute in certain cases.”