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Why was it so hard to establish a regional police force in Northern Ireland after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement Assignment

The current police service that now replaces the RUC was formed in November 2001 and is called the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The aims of this new police force were to give Northern Ireland a new, unbiased police service. The police force now has a new name, instead of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, a new badge and a new uniform. Most people wanted to get rid of the RUC because it was so corrupt, and the PSNI aimed to be fair, neutral and professional, working with the community.

The Good Friday Agreement was made because it was understood that the RUC needed a complete change. There were many events in the history of Northern Ireland which meant that nationalists and unionists couldn’t work together, and this same problem has hindered the police establishment for the past 86 years. The problem lies in the nationalist population refusing to accept the authority of the RUC because they don’t accept legitimacy of ‘Northern Ireland’ itself.

This abhorrence was established in the way Northern Ireland was created in 1921 and reinforced in discrimination which nationalists suffered from 1922 to 1968, by the unionists and the RUC’s reaction to the civil rights protests of the later 1960’s but the creation of the provisional IRA (the Provo’s) in the early 1970’s and by the failure of peace agreements in the 1970’s to the 1990’s. Although the nationalists have recently accepted the new PSNI as legitimate, it has taken 8 years since 1998, and even now the unionists and nationalists have still now agreed to share power so the problem remains unsolved.

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It has taken so long for the same reasons as the last 79 years. The way Northern Ireland was formed in 1921 after the Easter Rising of 1916 meant that the nationalists rejected the authority of the RUC from the very beginning. Northern Ireland was created as a result of the 1918 election in Ireland, the people of Ireland had voted for independence from Britain. The unionists didn’t want this and wanted to be part of Britain. By 1921 the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George and some Irish nationalists within Sinn Fein were getting fed up with the war, so they began peace talks.

He persuaded the leader of the IRA to agree to the partition of Ireland and it was decided that 6 counties with the most unionists would stay part of Britain. The IRA didn’t agree with this deal and split apart – this caused the Irish Civil War (1921-23). This created many problems for policing because protestants were always in a permanent majority, Northern Ireland was a protestant country with a protestant government and a likewise police force (RUC), and the Catholics/ nationalists refused to accept the existence of Northern Ireland and therefore the legitimacy of the government and police force.

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association – NICRA was created in February 1967 to try to expose and abolish discrimination. This ended up proving the police were biased and the nationalists thought that a new police force would be the same, as the RUC frequently used violence towards the nationalists, for example the Battle of Bogside, which started off as a peaceful march but ended up with violence and resulted in some deaths. After the march ended, protestants and catholics threw missiles at each other after loyalists began to throw pennies at catholics (an ancient insult).

It wasn’t long until a riot started and the RUC were sent to take down a barricade on one street. The riot turned into a violent battle where the RUC, with the help of loyalists attacked catholics and their houses. Another example of the police showing a biased approach between unionists and nationalists is the People’s Democracy march to Londonderry. This was again, a peaceful march until the marchers were attacked by a loyalist mob, using bricks and bottles as weapons. The RUC were not protecting the nationalists in any way so the British Army were sent.

This deeply angered the nationalists as the British Army again showed a biased control. This adds to reasons why the nationalists opposed the new police force and why it was so hard to establish it. The army was introduced in to help but instead this angered the nationalists even more and their lack of support and harsh feelings towards the RUC were made even stronger. The discrimination had not stopped and this was proved by events such as Bloody Sunday, Internment and Falls Road. This all gave the RUC a bad name and made the conflict much worse than it already was.

Bloody Sunday caused positive propaganda for the nationalists (republicans), stones were thrown at youths at a Civil Rights protest march, and the soldiers were shooting the marchers. The army were not even punished or shamed for their actions, they were excused and the IRA was blamed. Therefore support for the IRA grew stronger and by supporting the IRA, nationalists felt like they were defending their cause. The army and the RUC were seen as the same thing by nationalists and the RUC were seen as ‘oppressing’ the nationalists.

This led to hunger strikes (1980) where nationalist prisoners didn’t eat and demanded to be treated as political prisoners instead of ordinary criminals. The nationalists therefore rejected the police force because they thought it would be the same as the RUC and thought they were better off with the IRA and Sinn Fein to protect them. The IRA, who now were supported by most nationalists were corrupt and used uncontrollable violence. The army was desperately needed but was seen as being the same as the RUC, and the nationalists thought they were unhelpful and ignored their duties of protecting them.

The IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries didn’t recognise themselves as being terrorist groups; they thought they were fighting a war to protect the nationalists against the army and RUC. Gradually people began to rely on the IRA instead of the RUC and army and the police force became more and more distanced. The IRA wished to protect nationalists and get the army out of Ireland, and it seemed as if using violence was the only way. When the army were sent to control the violence, the IRA fought back.

The IRA therefore increased in violence and consequently the army were sent back in again. This kept happening and no improvements were made, issues were just complicated even more, increasing the need for a new police force. There were too many problems for this to work though, none of the nationalists trusted the police, neither were they respected or relied upon. The Good Friday Agreement was a compromise between unionists and nationalists; it was signed in Belfast on 10 April 1998 (Good Friday) by the British and Irish governments.

The agreement meant that both sides would get something but they had to give up other things in return. The unionists would have to share power with the nationalists. Part of this deal meant that unionists got their own government of Northern Ireland again and it was not longer ruled by the English from Westminster. They also got peace, as the nationalists (Sinn Fein and the IRA) agreed to give up violence and a neutral international commission supervised this. Northern Ireland also stayed part of Britain as long as the majority of its people wanted to.

On the other hand, the nationalists would get to share power with the unionists (DUP). They also got the chance that in the future Northern Ireland could vote to be part of Ireland, as well as all of their IRA prisoners released immediately, an enquiry into the possibility of creating a new police force, demilitarisation (the British army withdraws from Northern Ireland) and an enquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday. In return for this, the IRA and Sinn Fein have to give up violence forever (decommission their arms) and end the feud.

The reason this deal took so long to work was because Sinn Fein refused to give up violence or their weapons, but the unionists wouldn’t share power with them until they gave up violence, so it was a vicious circle – neither the nationalists nor the unionists would agree. Part of the Good Friday Agreement was the Patten Commission, a report which was a promise to look into the reform of the RUC and the creation of the new PSNI. The aims for the new PSNI would be different and unbiased.

The system would be evaluated frequently to protect human rights. The unionists wanted the RUC to remain because they trusted them and were worried that RUC police officers who had died protecting them would be forgotten due to the name change. To add to this, nationalists were fed up with the RUC’s biased control over them and didn’t want to work with the unionists and refused to trust the policing system because they thought they would still be ruled by the British Government and would therefore be further away from achieving a United Ireland.

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