Northern Ireland news

RUC's `institutionalised sectarianism a matter of public record' - SDLP Policing Board member

SDLP Policing Board members Dolores Kelly. Picture by Bill Smyth/PA Wire

SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly has rejected a call for her to apologise for describing the RUC as representing "institutionalised sectarianism", insisting it is "a matter of public record".

Ray Fitzsimons, chairman of the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association, had called on her to "withdraw your comments" in an open letter.

He said she had caused "gross offence... to the thousands of members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC who served this community in the most challenging of times".

Ms Kelly had been speaking about the need to attract more PSNI recruits from the Catholic and nationalist community.

Mr Fitzsimons said the Upper Bann assembly member had produced "no evidence to support such a scurrilous remark".

"Does your wholesale demonisation of the RUC extend to Constable Francis O'Reilly, the last RUC officer murdered, by loyalists, as he protected nationalists in Portadown in 1998? A Catholic officer murdered alongside Protestant colleagues," he asked.

"Or does it extend to the thousands of men and women who served the RUC from the Catholic community, many who lost family contact, who were shunned from within their own communities, who had to move homes because of the threat they then faced from within their own neighbourhoods, and were even denied the ability to play GAA, simply because they answered the call to serve our community?"

He described her as words as "demonisation", saying Catholic officers "without fear or favour, stood alongside Protestant colleagues as they held firm against the most vicious public disorder in Northern Ireland, due to the failure of political leadership to find accommodation amongst opposing communities".

Ms Kelly said her party "has previously paid tribute to the sacrifices made by many RUC officers and their families".

However, she 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," she said.

"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."

Ms Kelly also welcomed a commitment by Chief Constable Simon Byrne to conduct an external independent cultural audit within the service after PSNI civilian employee Sinead McGrotty shared her experience of alleged sexual assault and harassment by a serving officer.

"Recent developments have shown us how far the police service still has to go, particularly in their attitudes towards women, and it is key this review is conducted by an outside body," she said.

"...The terms of reference must be wide ranging, deep and allow the investigators to shine a spotlight into all areas, including those of equality and diversity.

"Everyone needs to have confidence in their police force and I think it's fair to say that confidence has been shaken by events of the past few days."

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