Mike Nesbitt joins calls for apology over MLA’s ‘sectarian’ RUC comments

A row over an MLA’s claim the RUC represented “institutionalised sectarianism” has escalated with Mike Nesbitt joining calls for Dolores Kelly to apologise.

Friday, 5th November 2021, 7:17 pm
RUC officer at the scene of a terrorist atrocity in Belfast city centre in 1987. Photo: Pacemaker

Upper Bann MLA Mrs Kelly was quoted in a newspaper article as saying this week’s PSNI 20th anniversary was the perfect opportunity to recommit to the principle of a shared police force.

The SDLP policing board member also said the creation of the PSNI was a “significant departure from the institutionalised sectarianism represented by the RUC”.

Those comments led to the NI Retired Police Officers’ Association penning an open letter to Mrs Kelly, in which the NIRPOA chairman called on the MLA to withdraw her remarks, and to apologise for the “gross offence” caused.

The letter states: “I am writing to seek your immediate withdrawal of that remark, and an apology for the gross offence you have caused to the thousands of members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC who served this community in the most challenging of times.”

Mrs Kelly responded, saying: “The SDLP has previously paid tribute to the sacrifices made by many RUC officers and their families.

“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.”

Mrs Kelly added: “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.”

Ulster Unionist policing board member Mr Nesbitt said he believes his SDLP counterpart should “reflect on her comments and the hurt they have caused and apologise”.

He said: “The RUC were the barrier between Northern Ireland and complete anarchy. They bravely held the line throughout the Troubles.

“Dolores Kelly’s comments have caused great hurt to former officers, their families and friends. Police officers didn’t wake up hoping to hurt someone, but every terrorist did, and it was police officers who were targeted simply because they were trying to protect society and save lives”.

Mr Nesbitt added: “Nobody disputes that the RUC could have done with more Catholic officers within its ranks.

“I have no doubt that many more would have come forward had it not been for the fact that the IRA made a special effort to target those Catholics who did join the RUC”.