Magazine article The Spectator

Chris Patten Is Guilty of a Monstrous Breach of Faith

Magazine article The Spectator

Chris Patten Is Guilty of a Monstrous Breach of Faith

Article excerpt

Chris Patten has a subtle Tory intelligence. fortified by an historian's training. He possesses the qualities to write an admirable report on policing in Ulster, which makes the document he has produced all the more inexplicable. It is unfortunate that, in the Ulster context, the words `tragic, and betrayal' have long since been shop-soiled by overuse. for they are needed now in all their freshness and force. Mr Patten's report is indeed a tragic betrayal, which has been compounded by the way in which he has tried to justify it. Flatly written, with none of the stylistic flair we should expect from the main author, it can easily be summarised: a moral nullity in an historical vacuum.

As one would expect in a divided society, the report's authors heard widely divergent opinions on the RUC during their researches. Republicans wanted the entire force to bc sacked, while most Unionists believed that it was outstanding(y successful. Confronted by such opposed views, the authors had a clear duty: to arbitrate between them on the basis of facts and evidence. But they declined to do so. Instead, they split the difference. Long ago, King Solomon demonstrated the flaws in that approach, but there is no Solomonic wisdom in this document. In their folly. our authors treat the IRA's view of the RUC as having moral equivalence with David Trimble's.

Common sense would dictate that anyone proposing to restructure a police force should analyse its recent history. But this document is a history-free zone. Its footnotes refer mainly to sociological works: our authors appear to assume that there is a Platonic ideal of policing, applicable to all societies at all times. But it is easy to see why they eschewed history. Had thev embarked upon it. thev would have been unable to withhold their admiration for the way in which a small undertrained police force has evolved into ti much larger, superbly trained body: one of the most effective police forces in the world. Of course there have been errors; of course some RUC officers proved to be unworthy of their uniform. But that is true ot every police force. It is certainly true of the Met, yet not even Sir William Macpherson has suggested that it should lose its name and insignia. At one point. the report does stumble into history. mentioning the RUC's failure to participate in international petc-keeping operations. As it happens. 60 RUC men are now in Kosovo, but if the authors had given the topic a moment's thought, they would have realised that for most of the past 30 years the RUC had more pressing domestic priorities.

A proper historical account would also lay bare the reason why there arc so few Catholics in the RUC: the IRA will stop at nothing to prevent them joining. Stung by press criticism, Mr Patten said over the weekend that he did not need to be told that the reason Catholics were not joining the RUC was that thev were being killed in industrial quantities by the IRA`. Well. he evidently did need to be told. because the report contains no mention of these homicides. Instead, there is a mere glossing-over reference to active discouragement, sometimes including intimidation .

During the first ceasefire, Catholic recruitment to the RUC sharply increased. But the IRA learned its lesson from that experience. The current increasingly nominal ceasefire has not prevented it from tightening its grip on many Catholic areas, and thus deterring potential Catholic policemen. As long as the IRA can prevent Catholics joining the RUC, only a tiny, brave minority will defy it. As soon as the IRA loses that power, Catholics will join. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.