DAVID TWISTON DAVIES
SUCH LS the exasperated disbelief which greets Irish events here that most English Catholics must have welcomed the announced destruction of the Royal Ulster Constabulary with a mixture of exasperation and boredom.
We forget that everything occurring in these islands involves all of us: we rarely consider that the RUC is the mainland's first line of defence against the IRA.
Yet as Catholics we have a particular interest in this decision. The Blair government justifies it on the grounds that only about 10 per cent of the RUC's officers are Catholics, though even the deliberately naive Lord Patten has admitted that the numbers would be higher if IRA gumen did not make a particular point of shooting Catholics in uniform. The fact that the RUC continues to go about its business unflinchingly after the murder of 302 of its members is proof enough that it is a remarkable organisation. Like the House of Lords, the RUC is one of our great institutions which has been attacked for being too good at demonstrating its impartiality.
Much of the RUC's success lies in the fact that it is a successor to the Royal Irish Constabulary. 80 per cent of whose members were Catholics when Ireland was tragically divided in 1922, The RIC, too, suffered some terrible losses of life because of its devotion to duty, something which was long neglected in the authorised version of modem Irish history taught in the Republic's schools. Faced with the prospect of having to work alongside the terrorists they had recently been hunting if they joined the Garda Siochana, which succeeded the RIC, some 434 Catholics went north to continue the honourable task of ensuring the King's Peace as regulars.
The suggestion that the RUC was somehow an alien force was effectively disproved when the Northern Ireland government unveiled its proposed badge. This showed the Crown above a St George's Cross embellished with the Red Hand of Ulster. Members of the RUC rejected it out of hand. They wanted the RIC insignia of Crown and Harp, symbolising their joint Irish and British character. Those Catholics brave enough to serve today surely deserve the moral support of Catholics thoughout the British Isles.
It seems extraordinary that these factors have weighed little with Lord Patten, who prefers to give credence to Sinn Fein's veiled hints that it might support the proposed new police service. But British governments have long been encouraging looser links between the United Kingdom and the province, though they would never openly admit it.
This policy seems all the more extraordinary now that Scottish and Welsh devolution has brought a new element of instability to the United Kingdom, and there are signs that opinion about the British relationship is changing in the Republic. You do not have to be in Dublin long to find far more people today willing to acknowledge the ludicrousness of Ireland being separated politically from the rest of the British Isles. A few individuals are even beginning to say so in public. With the passing from power of the generation which was born with the Republic, one tentative effort to heal the breach has already been aired in the suggestion that the Republic rejoin the Commonwealth.
We can expect this to be followed by calls for Ireland to consider reunification with the United Kingdom, a majority of whose Catholic population — it should be noted — must now have Irish blood coursing in their veins. Yet one could only sympathise if an Irish government refused to go ahead because the United Kingdom no longer offered the stability for which it was once famed.