Widespread discrimination against Catholics in RUC

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Confidential Royal Ulster Constabulary research, obtained exclusively by The Independent, concludes that at least 30 per cent of Catholic officers have experienced religious discrimination or harassment from colleagues or superior officers. David McKittrick, Ireland Correspondent, examines an alarming report.

The striking conclusions of the unpublished internal report will dismay the authorities at a time when the Government and the RUC are anxious to recruit more Catholics into the ranks.

The report, commissioned and carried out by the RUC, is based on what is described as probably the most extensive survey ever conducted within the constabulary.

Among its findings are:

l at least 29 per cent of all Catholic members had experienced religious harassment from colleagues;

l at least 12 per cent had experienced religious discrimination by superiors;

l 34 per cent reported being disillusioned with their career;

l 21 per cent had considered leaving the force due to discrimination or harassment.

The document, Force Research Branch - survey of religious and political harassment and discrimination in the RUC, has just reached the hands of senior officers. There are already signs that they will take it seriously.

Ronnie Flanagan, the RUC Chief Constable said last night: "I am determined that religious harassment must be eliminated. The results of this survey will be fully considered, and we will put in place a range of measures through training, education and supervision to ensure that inappropriate language and behaviour is eliminated."

Each one of the RUC's 12,800 regular and reserve officers was sent a questionnaire. About one-third responded. The report comments that the survey was unpopular with a number of officers, some of whom returned questionnaires uncompleted or ripped up. The survey followed an earlier report which indicated that almost half of female officers had experienced sexual harassment in the force.

In most cases, instances of discrimination were not officially reported by Catholic officers, who explained that they did not want to be victimised or did not believe anything would be done about it.

The report will be seen as giving solid statistical foundation to criticisms that the RUC is in need of urgent reform. One of the advocates of reform, former Northern Ireland Police Authority member Chris Ryder, wrote recently: "RUC canteen culture is still stubbornly male, Protestant, British, Unionist and laddish. The hard-drinking days are gone but there remains a hardcore allegiance to values and practices that compromise the concept of an even- handed, impartial police service."

The report contains a few grains of consolation for the authorities, but not many. On the one hand a majority of both Catholic and Protestant respondents rated the problem of religious harassment as not serious, many concluding that it had become less of a problem. Similarly, more than 40 per cent of Catholic respondents felt discrimination had become less of a problem. Furthermore, half of Catholics believed the force as a whole treated them equally with Protestants, while another 13 per cent thought it treated them better than their Protestant colleagues.

On the other hand more than one-third of Catholic respondents felt harassment remained a serious problem, while only 11 per cent of Catholic respondents, together with 14 per cent of Protestants, considered there was no discrimination in the force.

Of the Catholic officers who responded to the survey, 280 said they had experienced harassment. This figure represents 63 per cent of Catholic respondents and 29 per cent of the force's Catholic membership.

The report comments: "These results tell us that at least 29 per cent of all 964 Catholics in the RUC, and three per cent of all Protestants, have experienced religious harassment during their careers. These levels could be higher if others who had experienced harassment did not reply to the survey."

The report indicates that some Protestants had also complained of sectarian behaviour by other officers.

According to the report: "The most common form of religious harassment was sectarian jokes, banter or sectarian songs, with 92 per cent of Catholic respondents who had been harassed and 64 per cent of Protestant respondents stating that they had experienced this on one or more occasions.

"Of the less common forms of harassment more Catholics than Protestants reported experiencing inappropriate displays of flags and emblems, displays of sectarian posters, graffiti, circulation of sectarian notes or letters, isolation and non-cooperation."

The report concludes: "At a force level we can be sure that at least 12 per cent of all Catholics in the RUC, and three per cent of all Protestants, have experienced religious discrimination during their careers. The true level of discrimination may be higher than this as non-respondents may also have experienced discrimination."