Trevor Ringland has a letter in the Belfast Telegraph today, in which he argues that understandable contention over the meaning of the past could end up painting everyone into a corner. In particular he argues that a prolonged cold war over who behaved most badly could be corrosive of any new found settlement.
First, the police will police as necessary for whatever type of society we, as a people, decide to have. It is our decision. However, what any police service wants to do is police a normal and peaceful society.
Second, in the debate around collusion, or to give it its proper definition, criminality, police or military organisations can never say that some wrongdoing by members of the organisation did not happen because nothing ever surprises them.
After all, who would have thought that some would have tried to unite the people of Ireland by launching a sectarian campaign against the very people they were trying to unite with? Alternatively, others believed there was such a thing as a Protestant state for a Protestant people, when around 40% of the population are Catholic, or denied the very Irishness of Northern Ireland’s Britishness.
Third, the Police Federation and Retired Police Officers’ Association believe that any person, whether a police officer or not, who is involved in criminality, should be prosecuted. They would argue that the RUC was both pro-active and rigorous in the investigation of such matters, with officers being prosecuted or dismissed where evidence was found. They would also point to the various external inquiries and inspections which found no evidence that collusion was systemic or endemic. They regard any officer who acted in such a manner as having disgraced the organisation they represented and let down those who sought to preserve life and property through difficult times.
Fourth, it is worthwhile recounting a few basic statistics. In the course of duty, the RUC was involved in 52 deaths and the military about 280. Loyalists were responsible for around 900 murders and the republican movement over 2,000 murders.
This included the murders of over 650 military personnel and over 300 RUC members.
Between 1972 and 2001, 10,957 republicans and 8,099 loyalists were charged with terrorist and serious public order offences. Fifty per cent of loyalist murders were solved, as opposed to 30% of those committed by republicans. The unknown statistic is how many thousands of lives were saved by the actions of the security forces, as through intelligence gathering many terrorist attacks were thwarted.
Fifth, while republicans and loyalists pressed buttons to set off bombs and pulled triggers and then left the scene, the men and women of the security forces had to deal with the consequences, sometimes literally having to pick up the pieces.
We would do well to remember that the vast majority of our police and soldiers (numbering tens of thousands over a 35-year period) served gallantly and sacrificed dutifully to try, in very difficult circumstances, to maintain some harmony between our communities.
As a society we have yet to decide how we deal with the past but there are those who use it to try and maintain divisions.