Updated: Nov 18, 2020
The Royal Ulster Constabulary and Modern American Policing:
A Comparison of the Northern Ireland Conflict and America in 2020
For almost three decades from 1969 – 1998, a sociopolitical and religious divide plagued the Ulster region of Northern Ireland that sparked a civil war known globally as the Northern Ireland Conflict, or more locally known in that region as the Troubles. Northern Ireland at the time was still under British rule and governing. The Irish Catholic Republican-Nationalist natives felt religiously and socially persecuted by the British Protestant Loyalist-Unionist government for many reasons to include voting discrimination, public-housing discrimination and education discrimination (Rekawe, 2011).
The civil tensions between the Irish Catholics and the British government in the small Ulster region, that had a heavy demographic of Protestants, had even pre-dated The Troubles, going back as far as before World War I. As a result of the civil rights movement and uprising in the Ulster area, in 1922 the British government had employed a para-militaristic, and highly armed police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), to police the region and maintain any political civil unrest, as well as, deal with common criminal matters (Enloe, 1978). The initial demographic of the RUC was ordered to be only one-third Catholic, however, ended up only being 21 percent Catholic and the remainder Protestant (Ryder, 1997).
The issue taken with that, despite the RUC being highly armed as opposed to its unarmed and friendly British Bobby counterpart (Ryder, 1997), the agency, at its most unbalanced diversity, was comprised of almost 92% British Protestants and only 8% Irish Catholics (Beaudette & Weinstein, 2020), resulting in the minority of civilian populace (the Catholics) in the Ulster region to feel unfairly represented in the police force, causing the Catholic community’s lack of faith in the RUC (Beaudette & Weinstein, 2020).
The RUC was also a controversial force because outside observers viewed the police force as “evil storm troopers” working in the name of unionism and on behalf of the British government who they felt indulged in biased police brutality (Latham, 2001). In order to combat, what the Catholics of Ulster perceived to be a tyrannical police force, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), who broke off from the original IRA because it was deemed to be no match against the RUC (Rekawe, 2011), was formed and waged a militant war. The PIRA’s agenda shifted from political civil rights activism implemented by the IRA to instead not wanting to just achieve civil rights, but to remove the British presence from Ireland by the means of a terrorist-cum-urban guerrilla campaign (Rekawe, 2011).
As a result of this bloodshed, over the course of the thirty years of the Troubles, over 300 RUC officers were murdered and another 8,000-9,000 were severely injured or maimed; all casualties were the result of terrorist style pipe/car-bombings, sniper fire, and mortar fire at the hands of the PIRA (Ryder, 1997). And what is worse, a lot of these ambush terrorist attacks on RUC members were when they were either mindlessly walking their beats, not bothering anyone, or even when they were off-duty, at home in the comfort of their domicile, and then forced out of their home to be tortured and/or executed (Ryder, 1997). And even before the eventual ceasefire in 1998, since the beginning of the Troubles in 1969, by 1983 according to an Interpol figure published in the International Criminal Police Review of that same year, the RUC was deemed the most dangerous police force in the world to work for, and kept that reputation until the end (Ryder, 1997). The murders of these police officers in Norther Ireland were believed to be purely driven by the hatred towards police (Ryder, 1997).
Now, one may read this as an American in 2020 and connect some similarities between the tension of police/civilian relationships during the Troubles, and the tension between police/civilian relationships here in 2020 America as I have done. My hypothesis is to ask if, although there have been small periods of tension between American police forces and civilians since the 1960’s such as the Watts riot of 1965, the Newark riots of 1967 or the LA riots of 1992 which were both in the name of racially provoked police brutality, that since 2013 with the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement as a result of the George Zimmerman verdict (Rickford, 2016) to now, has policing in America become just as violent, lethal and dangerous to work in as it was to work for the RUC from 1969-1998?
I think that it is important to make this comparative study in order to foreshadow what could potentially be a lethal time in American history if events continue to unfold as they are here in as they did in Northern Ireland. There have been many pieces of literature over the years during and since the end the Northern Ireland Conflict that analyze the political and social turmoil in that region, the characteristics and roles the IRA/PIRA played, and the characteristics and roles the RUC played during that time period. Reviewing these works and analyzat