Final RUC parade marks end of era

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The Independent Online

The end of a policing era in Northern Ireland was foreshadowed in Belfast yesterday when the Royal Ulster Constabulary staged its last recruits passing-out parade before the force's planned transformation.

The end of a policing era in Northern Ireland was foreshadowed in Belfast yesterday when the Royal Ulster Constabulary staged its last recruits passing-out parade before the force's planned transformation.

The 36 new recruits are the last to join the RUC before it takes on the new name of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and before it is radically changed by reforms set in motion by the Patten report.

The RUC's Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, told the recruits: "We have nothing to fear from change. We stand ready to accept the challenges brought about by the Patten report. It is my fervent hope that all of those communities we exist to serve stand similarly ready to take up the challenge."

The exact terms of the changes being enacted have yet to be clarified, since new legislation will be the subject of debate in parliament this autumn. Although the RUC name will be discontinued, it is to be commemorated in some form in what has been described as the new service's "title deeds".

The powers and responsibilities to be shared out among the Chief Constable, the Government and new community-based oversight bodies have yet to be finalised.

A priority for the reformed force will be to increase Catholic representation in the ranks. Only four of yesterday's 36 recruits were Catholics.

Violence and sectarian clashes continue on the streets, with loyalists in particular going on almost nightly rampages. A number of houses have been attacked in the predominantly Protestant County Antrim towns of Carrickfergus and Larne, apparently as a result of localised feuding.

Other attacks continue in Belfast, especially in the north of the city. Although loyalists describe such incidents as "tit-for-tat" violence, all the signs are that they, and in particular the Ulster Freedom Fighters, are responsible for most of theattacks.

Gerry Kelly, of Sinn Fein, said: "We are not witnessing a series of tit-for-tat attacks, as some have reported. What we are seeing is an organised and orchestrated attempt to raise tensions and create conditions for attacks on Catholics."

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