By Jim Smith
BOSTON – Skepticism and a wait-and-see attitude marked the reaction of several community activists and a former Boston Police Commissioner to the news that a commission has been set up to oversee reform of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Sean Cahill, a lecturer in political science at Northeastern University and a policy analyst for the Massachusetts Human Services Coalition, said that reform of the RUC falls far short of what is needed. His group, Peace Watch Ireland, is calling for the creation of a new police force in Northern Ireland. “The RUC is riddled with sectarianism and the abuses are so systemic, that the present force must be disbanded,” he said.
Scott Daugherty, also of Peace Watch Ireland, met with newly appointed commission member Kathleen O’Toole last fall, along with Brendan MacCionnaith of the Garvaghy Road Residents Group of Portadown. O’Toole had been meeting with Northern Ireland officials and had recently led a Massachusetts delegation to advise officials in Belfast on the creation of domestic violence prevention programs.
“We showed her video footage of the RUC in action along the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast,” he said. “She did seem quite distressed by the brutality.” Daugherty added that “it is too soon to tell” if the commission will serve any worthwhile purpose.
Reached at his home in Portadown, MacCionnaith said that he remembers O’Toole being “shocked” by the video footage of the RUC. In retrospect, MacCionnaith hopes that his meeting with O’Toole last fall helped to enlighten her about “the grim realities of the situation over here.”
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MacCionnaith said that he is troubled by the fact that the commission’s recommendations will be non-binding. “There’s no implementation schedule set up, and the RUC itself will strongly oppose anything other than some cosmetic changes,” he said.
Boston City Councillor Francis “Mickey” Roache, who was the Boston Police Commissioner from 1985 to 1993, gives commission member O’Toole high marks as a law enforcement official. “She’s very sharp, very talented,” he said.
Roache fears, however, that the commission’s work could be a waste of time. “I really don’t consider the RUC a police department,” he said. “It’s more like a branch of the military. The best route would be to start with a clean slate and create a completely new police force that would serve the needs of the community.”
Roache, who traveled to Northern Ireland with Peace Watch in 1996, also said that he favors the banning or strict control of the use of plastic bullets. “We know that these bullets maim and kill children,” he said. “They’re really no different from regular bullets when fired by officers who are consumed by years of hatred.”