The award came as the force's future is under review, with the Government considering the Patten report recommendations that it be transformed into a more representative and civilianised body.
The George Cross, second only in precedence to the Victoria Cross, is intended primarily for civilians. It was last awarded on a collective basis in 1942 when the Mediterranean island of Malta was honoured for resisting German attack.
The move was denounced as "grossly offensive," by Bairbre de Brun, Sinn Fein's policing spokeswoman. "This latest attempt to give credibility to this discredited force flies in the face of the promise in the Good Friday Agreement for a new beginning to policing," she said.
More moderate nationalist opinion did not, however, take serious exception to the move. Although in that quarter the RUC is thought of as having indulged in a variety of questionable practices, its loss of more than 300 officers in the Troubles is also recognised.
Nationalist pressure is, however, being maintained for the name-change recommended in the Patten report and other sweeping reforms.
Asked if the award represented in effect a farewell present to the force, the Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said: "The magnitude of this award is such, having been granted only once previously for collective courage, to the island of Malta... it would be mean-spirited of anyone to consider it in that light at all."
Tony Blair said the award was an outstanding tribute to those who had served with courage and distinction.Reuse content