Last major RUC link under threat

The RUC Athletic Association is based at Newforge, south Belfast
The RUC Athletic Association is based at Newforge, south Belfast

ULSTER policing’s last major link to the RUC will be lost forever if a police sporting body votes to change its historic name.

Later this month, members of the RUC Athletic Association (RUC AA) will vote on whether their name should be changed to remove the reference to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The proposal has outraged many former RUC officers – the row taking a new twist on Tuesday when a PSNI Assistant Chief Constable sent a letter to RUC AA members urging them to support the name change.

Both the News Letter and TUV leader Jim Allister have been contacted by members of the association who say they are extremely angry that the sporting body – a private organisation largely funded by members’ subscriptions – should be forced to fall into line with the PSNI’s title and symbolism.

ACC Will Kerr is the current Athletic Association chairman. His letter claims that retaining the RUC title could result in a “failure to secure grants on which this association is financially dependent”.

He further states that a “failure to meet this requirement will almost certainly mean a signficant increase in members’ subscripiton fees to make up the shortfall” and said it could even place the organisation’s long-term viability in jeopardy.

Speaking yesterday, North Antrim MLA Mr Allister said it appears obvious that “the powers that be are putting enormous pressure on the RUC Athletic Association to change its name” and “threatening to cut grants to it unless the members fall into line”.

The TUV leader added: “”It is incumbent upon ACC Kerr to come clean on exactly where the threat to funding comes from. It simply isn’t good enough to seek to blackmail the RUC AA in this way without telling us who is threatening them should the proud name of the RUC GC be preserved in the organisation’s title.

“The RUC served with distinction throughout the terrorist campaign of the Troubles and many of its members made the supreme sacrifice. The stripping of the RUC’s name and badge was an issue which caused huge hurt to the men and women who served in its ranks. Now there is an attempt to erase the last remnants of its name from the PSNI’s structures.”

Based at Newforge in south Belfast, the Association was formed in 1928 and assists in “the provision of facilities and services for, or in connection with, any form of recreation or amateur sport” for members of sporting bodies affiliated to the police service.

One ex-RUC officer said his former colleagues, who had been stalwarts of the Association, “would be turning in their graves” at the proposals.

Another, current vice-chairman of the NI Retired Police Association (RPOA) Roy Cairns, said he only heard about the proposals last Thursday and feels the vote is being put on the agenda “with indecent haste”.

Mr Cairns, who made clear he was only speaking in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the RPOA, said he has already been contacted by several RUC AA members who are outraged at the proposals.

“We want to make the Athletic Association a success with football, rugby, gaelic games — all sports enjoying success – but it was former RUC officers who built Newforge [sports club] in 1986 and many of them are now obviously very angry that attempts are being made to airbrush their contribution,” said the former superintendent.

“The name of the RUC Athletic Association should be preserved as it is part of our history. Even the Garda Siochana commemorate the old RIC because it is of historic importance.”

Mr Cairns, who joined the RUC in 1956, said the current board of the RUC AA had five representatives of the Chief Constable and no-one officially there to represent the views of former officers.

“We have a good relationship with Matt Baggott who regards us as one big police family. It’s no criticism of the Chief Constable but we’re a bit miffed to say the least that this has become an issue.”

One former RUC GC officer who spoke to the News Letter predicted that hundreds of RUC AA subscribers would leave in protest if the change goes ahead.

The ex-constable, who did not wish to be named, said he believes the timing of the new proposals could be down to former RUC officers now being a minority within the PSNI.

“This is a private club — and the last real link with the RUC GC. I reckon the vast majority paying subscriptions are former RUC who will walk away in disgust,” he said.

When contacted this week, the RUC Athletic Association said they couldn’t comment on the proposed name change and referred all queries to the PSNI press office.

A spokesman for the PSNI said he could confirm the meeting is due to be held later this month and that the new name being proposed was the Police Athletic Association.

“The proposal to change the name reflects that the Athletic Association represents both policing organisations — the RUC GC and the PSNI – and, if accepted, will formalise the name by which the organisation’s sports teams are already known in the community and within national and international police sporting circles,” he said.

The spokesman added: “The decision is not about politics or disrespecting the past. This is simply a recognition that the sporting association of the police family needs to reflect the name change in policing which is now over 10 years old.”