From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
IRISH CATHOLIC LEADER URGES POLICE
04 May 1996 20:43:33
95395 IRISH CATHOLIC LEADER URGES POLICE
TO IMPROVE COMMUNITY RELATIONS SKILLS
by Jerry L. Van Marter
BELFAST, Northern Ireland--It seemed strange to hear a Catholic priest
invoke the O.J. Simpson trial in a talk to a group of new recruits to
Northern Ireland's Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).
But Father Brian Lennon, a Jesuit leader of efforts to foster greater
"cross-community" (Catholic and Protestant) understanding in this still
troubled land, brilliantly used the controversial U.S. trial to urge the
150 new police recruits to be a constructive force in Northern Ireland,
which is still adjusting to peace after 25 years of bloody sectarian
"If you want to be part of a police service that contributes to
community relations, don't lie under oath," Lennon told the group -- the
first group of police trainees recruited since a cease-fire went into
effect in Northern Ireland a little over a year ago.
For the past 25 years of "the troubles," shootings and bombings by the
Irish Republican Army (IRA) and counterviolence by a number of Protestant
militias, the RUC has been viewed --especially in Catholic areas -- as an
extension of the British Army, which unsuccessfully tried to quash the IRA.
Lying under oath by RUC officers arguably became commonplace as efforts to
stem the violence by jailing suspected "terrorists" intensified.
Using Simpson's acquittal after detective Mark Fuhrmann's testimony
was discredited as an example, Lennon told the RUC recruits, "I understand
that stopping this practice of lying to obtain convictions means you will
have to live with more pain because justice will not always be done." But
establishing trust in communities that have not historically trusted the
RUC means "Don't lie to win," he said.
Most Catholics considered cooperation with, let alone joining, the RUC
as tantamount to treason. So the RUC has been almost entirely Protestant.
That is now slowly changing. Since the cease-fire in August of 1994,
increasing numbers of Catholics, now freed from the prospect of shooting or
getting shot at by their own, are enlisting in the RUC, which provides
secure employment in job-starved Northern Ireland.
And as the composition and role of the RUC changes in a violence-free
Northern Ireland, police officials are seeking to transform the police into
a positive force here. Lennon's talk was part of a program of community
relations training that was instituted less than two years ago as a
component of RUC training.
In a society where hatred between Catholics and Protestants runs deep,
Lennon urged the recruits to face their prejudices openly. "Work to
uncover your prejudices -- believe me, you have them," he said. "It's not
wrong to have them," Lennon reassured the group, "but it is dead wrong not
to uncover them and work to overcome them."
Lennon told the recruits that coming onto the RUC with a cease-fire in
effect "gives you a huge new possibility and a huge new responsibility."
For the first time since 1969, when the current "troubles" began, Lennon
said, the RUC can work to develop good relationships in the community
rather than simply try to quell violence. "You have the possibility to
help build a new society that your elders in the RUC have never had," he
The key, Lennon concluded, is for the RUC to contribute to a new
Northern Ireland by embracing the changes the cease-fire has engendered and
taking seriously its community relations responsibility so the RUC is seen
not as Protestant or British or Irish, but as a reflection of Northern
Ireland's society in all its complexity.
"We're at a turning point here, where your children have a chance to
get a better deal than you got," Lennon said. "But it's a possibility, not
a guarantee, and a lot depends on your integrity and responsiveness to this
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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