November 13th 2019
I understand why Ruth Dudley Edwards liked Gerry Gregg’s sympathetic film on the RUC (10th November). It was propaganda. I have no problem with RUC personnel telling their stories. They are entitled to their memories, to feeling of triumph, tragedy and despair. I have a problem with this BBC programme as either a comprehensive view of the RUC, or as a comprehensive view from within the RUC.
The technique of letting participants, retired RUC officers, tell their own story has merit, if the audience is given a sufficient variety of perspective. Instead, we were presented with political uniformity. The repeated claim that the RUC “didn’t start the fire”, the Troubles, was unquestioned. It is clearly mistaken. Was no retired member of the force capable of stepping outside the bounds of group allegiance to admit that the RUC, a sectarian force in a sectarian state, alienated the nationalist population? Was no former member of the RUC capable of reflection beyond barrack room loyalty? One participant said, “We were hated.” That was left unexplored.
RUC personnel in collusion with loyalists received gestural treatment. The conviction of RUC officers Billy McCaughey and John Weir for killing Ahoghill chemist William Strathern served to allow programme participants to distance themselves from those who ‘sullied’ the RUC’s name. Had the programme interviewed John Weir, the audience would have been presented with evidence of collusion further up the ranks. Stathern’s actual killer, Robin Jackson, wasnot charged with that or with other loyalist paramilitary activity. Jackson had associations with security forces, including RUC Special Branch. McCaughey boasted that his RUC Special Patrol Group intimidated out a lone RomanCatholic who joined. He might have spoiled their pastime of harassing Catholics and of enabling loyalists to kill them.
The uncritical reference to RUC Special Branch was equally unsurprising, given that the programme researcher served in that ‘force-within-a force’. It was asserted that Special Branch ran agents in both the IRA and in loyalist groups. In fact, Special Branch and British military intelligence ran loyalist groups against the IRA and against nationalist political leaders. Former CID detectives Johnston Browne and Alan Simpson have written critically about how Special Branch operated. They would have made for informative interviewees.
Instead, we were given the corporate version of the RUC story. On that basis, can we expect a similar programme containing sympathetic interviews with former IRA volunteers? I won’t hold my breath.