The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes in which to propose and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.
One amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The proposer of the amendment will have 10 minutes in which to propose and five minutes in which to make a winding-up speech.
I beg to move
That this Assembly supports the suggestions for an RUC Museum at Brooklyn Headquarters near to the Garden of Remembrance; and calls on the Northern Ireland Office to allocate the necessary funding to enable building to begin during 2009.
I appreciate the opportunity to bring this matter to the Chamber and to speak to the motion.
In 2001, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid, announced funding of more than £1 million for the construction of a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) garden of remembrance and museum. With the RUC now replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Chris Patten, author of the Patten Report, recommended that a garden honouring and remembering the officers who had served in the RUC and the PSNI was a fitting and just memorial. I agree with that.
Announcing the financial package on 14 November 2001, Dr Reid said:
“I am delighted to be able to announce the creation of a Garden of Remembrance for the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Patten identified a need for continued recognition of the dedication and sacrifice of the officers of the RUC. I fully support this prestigious and permanent memorial and I look forward to being able to visit it.”
Dr Reid wag awa:
“Tha gerdin o’ remembrins alang wi’ tha RUC muzeim wull bring taegither baith proajects intae a’ kimpleet ‘RUC experience’ whor fowk cumin tae it caun luk bakk oan tha sacrifices o’ tha RUC as they wauk throo tha memoriel gerdin as weel as takkin in tha muckle items en displeys aboot tha RUC an’ it’s histry.”
Dr Reid continued:
“The Garden of Remembrance along with the RUC Museum will draw together both projects into a complete ‘RUC experience’ where visitors can reflect on the sacrifices of the RUC as they walk through the Memorial Garden and visit the many exhibits and displays about the RUC and its history in the Museum.”
Tha fundatshin wus drawn up tae provide pratical recognishin o’ tha acheevmunts an sacrifices o’ tha Royal Ulster Constabulary, whiel tha woark o’ tha fun’ wus tae bring aboot mare help tae luk efter tha injured an disabled polis oafichers, en oafichers that hae noo retired, as weel as ther femelies, an ther wudaws wha haes been affected bi’ terrorism in Norlin Airlan.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Foundation was created to provide practical recognition of the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s achievements and sacrifices. The work of the Northern Ireland Police Fund was to bring additional assistance to injured, disabled and retired police officers and their families, as well as police widows, who have been affected by terrorism in Northern Ireland.
It was all a beautiful plan, and we have a beautiful memorial garden, yet we are still waiting for the promised museum to be built on site, alongside the garden. That has being going on for far too long without intervention. I was contacted by a constituent who was, understandably, very anxious for the Northern Ireland Office to fulfil its promise and build the museum beside the garden, where there is ample space and where it would set off the memorial garden.
Currently, there is an RUC museum on the Knock Road in Belfast, but the best place for such a museum is beside the garden of remembrance, which I believe was always the intention. Surely it is best for the museum and the garden to go hand in hand, to allow people to see the history of the RUC and, indeed, the PSNI, as it is now, and to see the history of policing in Ireland as a whole, so that they can learn about the men and women who gave their lives to protect the people of the Province. This is an opportunity for the two to be built together.
However, as with most recommendations in the Patten Report, only those that suited were implemented straight away, with everything else left hanging in the balance, waiting for people to get around to it. It is past time that the Assembly stood up and added its voice to the voices of the thousands of widows and orphans and of those who have served with pride in the RUC and the PSNI. The Assembly should ask that the Northern Ireland Office finally fulfil its word and allow for a museum to be built beside the garden, so that both can be enhanced.
The existing RUC museum is not well known. For example, a search on the Internet revealed only the location of the museum; there were no reviews or links, apart from one on the PSNI website, which brought up only an error page. It is little wonder that there are no reviews of the museum when no one can find out anything about it. When five people, one of whom was an ex-RUC officer, were asked whether they knew of the RUC museum’s existence, none of them was. The reason for that is that the museum has not been promoted as it should have been.
The museum is not well known throughout the international community. It could be used as a tourist attraction similar to the Newseum in the United States, but it must be well publicised, and people must know about it. Situating the museum beside the memorial garden has the added attraction of ensuring that it will honour not only the sacrifice of serving members of the RUC and their families but the promise that was made in 2001.
In 2005, the then Security Minister, Shaun Woodward MP, visited the memorial garden and again stated how happy he would be to talk to the trustees about a new museum. However, the Northern Ireland Office has done nothing about releasing the funding to further the project, which is why we tabled the motion. How long must we wait for action? How many Northern Ireland Office officials will make assurances and promises and not be held accountable for their words?
We have a noble and proud history of having one of the best police forces in the world. Police experts from Northern Ireland are invited to numerous places across the globe for their advice and guidance not only because of their experience in fighting terrorism but because of forensics expertise that they have acquired over the years. It is recognised that our police force is at its peak. However, it is sad that we can barely acknowledge that, when one considers the recommendations of the Patten Report.
Although Members remember the RUC and the exemplary work and sacrifice of its members, our children and grandchildren will not. We must ensure that there is a relevant and interesting facility to which we can take our children to tell them about the history of our colourful country. In the same way as there are Jewish memorials to the Holocaust, so, too, should there be reminders for our children of the price paid by good men and good women for the peace and safety of our beautiful nation and our beautiful land.
Museums are a part of a cultural heritage that should be enhanced and encouraged. Children are taken to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum to get a feel for the way that things used to be and to understand their traditions and heritage better. A police museum will inform future generations, allow them to understand the truth behind much propaganda and allow them to see pictures and images that are vastly different from those that have often appeared in the media. That is essential as the Province moves on; in moving forward, we cannot and will not forget our past and allow others to distort and malign real facts and real history. An RUC museum could show facts in a way that will be interesting and informative for those who hail from the Province and those who come from abroad. We have been fortunate that many people have come from abroad to join the police force in Northern Ireland. Those people have added their cultural identities to our police force, and their contribution is acknowledged.
For those who lived through the Troubles, and those who receive their information through the media — and there are people who do — the museum is necessary. It is long past time that such a museum be built in the best place and promoted in the best way. The Northern Ireland Office made a promise, and we will hold it to that promise: a garden of remembrance and a museum to honour the RUC, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and other policing organisations. We do not yet have that in its entirety, and we will not stop until we do so.
My party colleagues and I ask the Northern Ireland Office to stop its stalling and honour its word. By co-locating the museum and the memorial garden, let us honour and be ever conscious of the sacrifice of the men and women who gave their time and their lives in service to our Queen and country over many years.
I beg to move the following amendment: Leave out all after “Assembly” and insert
“notes the proposal for an RUC museum; believes that methods to acknowledge the past, including the role of the RUC and the different experiences of policing over the years, should be developed; and recommends that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the Policing Board, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Commission for Victims and Survivors and the future victims and survivors forum should consider the matter.”
The SDLP is not inclined to support the motion. However, that should not in any way diminish the fact that the broad sentiments that Mr Shannon outlined are very much arguments and views from which we do not dissent. His final comment was that the contribution of RUC and police officers over recent decades and at present should be recognised. As he was saying that, I was thinking, as, I am sure, were many others, of Constable Stephen Carroll, who made his contribution to the PSNI, but also to the RUC. Whatever differences that the SDLP and the nationalist community have had with policing and the RUC, and whatever concerns we have had about what individuals and elements in the police were responsible for in the past, there is something to honour, respect and elevate in what Stephen Carroll and many other officers did over the years before and since Patten.
In that regard, the SDLP does not dissent from the spirit and substance of some of what Mr Shannon said. I want to make that very clear. However, we are still inclined not to support the motion, and we have two broad streams of thought about the matter. The first is technical and financial and the second is personal and emotional.
The motion is very specific. It calls on the NIO to release funding for an RUC and police museum in this financial year. The SDLP does not think that that is the best use of public and police funds in this financial year, because although some of this information has not yet been placed in the public domain, there are already very substantial and unavoidable pressures on the police budgets over the next couple of years. If the devolution of policing and justice were, for example, to happen sooner rather than later, there would be further and additional pressures on the policing and justice budget over and above those already identified.
In the context of tight financial pressures and where there will be unavoidable claims due to the dissident threat, hearing loss and extra staff for the Public Prosecution Service, where there have been new and additional concerns in recent days, we do not think that an RUC and police museum is a priority that justifies money being released in this financial year. That is different from understanding the sentiment and spirit of what Mr Shannon said. However, it recognises that, in the current financial environment, there are grounds for saying that the policing budget and additional policing moneys should go in directions other than to such a museum.
Given that there are unavoidable and difficult policing and justice budgetary pressures, I ask Mr Shannon to reflect where this proposal comes in the order of things. Without diminishing what the Member said, the SDLP thinks that this is not where the priority budget line should be.
This is, of course, much more than a technical and financial issue. It is also personal and emotional, because the experience of people in the North over the past 30 or 40 years is not about money and technical matters. Rather, it is very much about personal experience and emotional impact. That is why we think that acknowledging the past and how that is expressed, including through museums, needs broader and deeper consideration.
That is why we suggested, as the Eames/Bradley group suggested, that the issue of how a museum might be framed, and there are very many different models about how a museum to acknowledge the past could be framed, should be referred to the Commission for Victims and Survivors. Hopefully, in the near future, it should also be referred to the proposed forum for victims and survivors.
I understand the points that the Member raises in relation to the technical objections, and I am sure that those will be fleshed out during the debate. However, I fail to understand his emotional objection. I thought that his party had overcome that objection, especially considering that its representative on the Policing Board put her name to a letter of 11 March 2008 in which board members unanimously supported the business case — not the emotional case, technical case or outline view — that allowed for the appointment of a consultant to take the matter forward with a fully fleshed-out proposal to the Northern Ireland Office. Is the Member now saying that his party’s board members did not give proper consideration to the issue and that perhaps they did not look at the broader issue? Have they made a slip-up in this case? Is he withdrawing consent for the business case during this debate? Is he aware that that letter was sent?
I anticipated that someone — most likely Mr Paisley — would raise this matter. As I pointed out, we are in a very different place today when it comes to financial priorities than we have been at any time in the recent past. The SDLP has been trying to convince the DUP and Sinn Féin that we need to look at budgets, because our situation is graphically different from what it was 18 months, or even six months, ago. Commitments entered into previously must be reconsidered in the context of the new budgetary position. That includes that particular commitment. I thank Mr Paisley for the intervention, but I did anticipate it, and I think that I have given a fair answer.
However, the emotional point is a broader one. In some ways, the Eames/Bradley report was appalling. In chapter five, which deals with memorials and remembering, it states:
“Through storytelling, people realise that, although they feel their cause was just, not all that they did in pursuit of it was either the right thing to do, or altogether necessary.”
In my view, that is an appalling statement for anyone to make. Things that were wrong were not, as they put it, “the right thing to do”; and they describe things that were completely unnecessary as being not “altogether necessary”. We must consider proposals about the past and the museum in the context of the Eames/Bradley report and its weaknesses.
In the same chapter, the group makes some valid points about how we should acknowledge our past. It states that we must not glamorise what was wrong, elevate terror or misrepresent the experience of the past. The report also states that there may be a need for:
“a dedicated ‘Troubles’ exhibition in an existing museum.”
That is why we included the reference to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) in our amendment. I note that the Minister is present, and that he might reply to the matter in his personal capacity.
The report states:
“A memorial should direct people to the future and in particular a shared and reconciled future.”
It also states that we must develop shared space in order to mitigate any alienation from a shared memorial.
Those are some principles that need to be acknowledged when taking forward the matter of whether there should be a museum to take into account the particular experience of the RUC, or one that will take into account the vastly shared experiences, not just of policing, but of society over the past 30 or 40 years. That debate needs to happen.
One thing that we can learn from the Patten experience, regardless of whatever misgivings there might be about some of its details, is that, at a point in time in our history, a number of people outlined not just a reflection on the policing of the past but a vision and values for policing in the future. We are in a far better place today than we would have been had that not happened. We think that the same thing should happen in respect of our experience of the past. We need to look at a model that outlines the shared experience of the past in order to move forward on an ethical basis.
Go raibh maith agat. There can be no doubt that many issues remain to be resolved by our society as it moves out of and away from conflict and towards stability. The resolution of those issues will present many challenges for us all to deal with. We must face them in an open, transparent and equitable way. There should be no tolerance of playing politics with people’s genuine feelings and grievances.
One of those challenges will be how we deal with the legacy of history and how we preserve history, particularly the history of participants in the conflict. I am a trustee of the Museum of Free Derry. A main principle of that museum — its narrative — is that people who lived through and witnessed a particular period in our history are entitled to tell their story. The museum promotes the principle that people have the right to describe their story and experience in their own words. However, it is accepted that that cannot be done in isolation from others who do likewise.
The issue of an RUC museum poses many challenges to us. However, the Assembly recently dealt with the victims’ issue, which was not without difficulties and differing views and perspectives. The Executive found a way forward: a platform in which all those perspectives could be addressed and resolutions sought. That is not to ignore concerns that were raised in the establishment of the Victims’ Commissioners, but people must accept that, no matter what is proposed, there will always be concerns and issues. That is the reality of our situation.
Sinn Féin supports and is committed to the concept of the need to preserve the history of the conflict in an appropriate and necessary way. The party has a view on how that can best be achieved, and it is mindful of the need for sensitivity about what is a very complex, and, for many, a very emotional issue. We attempted to introduce an amendment to deal with that, and we called for time and space to allow all ideas and views to be heard and addressed.
In our view, the legacy of preserving history, an issue similar to that of victims, should be delegated to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). I have no desire to question the timing of the motion, but I believe that this is not the time for the Assembly to take a position as fixed and determinate as that outlined in the motion. Similarly, the amendment is overly prescriptive. We believe that the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister is best placed to take forward the task. We have seen how it dealt with the issue of the Victims’ Commissioners.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Let the debate begin the discussion on how we best preserve the history of the conflict in an open, transparent and equitable manner. Go raibh maith agat.
I support the motion. The issue of an RUC museum has festered for more than seven years; a time that is littered with broken promises and delays. It goes back to November 2001, when John Reid, the then Secretary of State, promised the RUC George Cross Foundation a garden and a museum. Since then, the NIO has prevaricated and nothing has happened.
Members should pay tribute to Jim McDonald and the foundation for being tenacious in keeping at this issue. Alex Attwood talked earlier in the debate about money. Jim McDonald said on the radio this morning that the foundation was more than happy to raise a substantial part of the funds for the museum, but not until the Government fulfil their commitment to produce some of the money. The foundation’s supporters are happy enough to do their fair share, but progress must start now.
What is the importance of such a museum? It is worth reminding ourselves that it would not be just an RUC museum; it would be about policing on the island of Ireland. The museum would reflect the Royal Irish Constabulary and policing in the 100 years from 1822 to 1922; the Dublin Metropolitan Police from 1836 to 1925; the RUC from 1922 to 2001; the Garda from 1922 to the present; and the PSNI. Therefore, the museum covers a fairly substantial area of policing on the island of Ireland.
The museum would be a good vehicle for cross-community and cross-border relations. I have the privilege of being a trustee of the Somme Heritage Centre, which looks at Ireland’s contribution to the First World War, when the island was one and both sides of the community were involved. Looking at policing since 1822 is another opportunity — right across our community and in relation to North/South matters — to consider the whole issue of policing and to provide some degree of common cause.
I am concerned about the SDLP amendment. It would bog the issue down in faction fighting that would involve DCAL, the Policing Board, which, although initially happy, may now be unhappy, and victims’ groups. It is probably a recipe for disaster.
The issue should be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Office before the devolution of policing and justice takes place, as was promised. Otherwise, it will get mixed up with ongoing political conflict. Surely the men and women who gallantly served the community on the island of Ireland for over 200 years deserve better. I call on the NIO to fund the museum, and I urge colleagues to support the motion.
I too support the motion. I recognise that it is far from perfect, but it gives a strong signal of the way forward for this Assembly. I encourage the Northern Ireland Office to move ahead with the proposal. I am sympathetic to much of the thrust of the amendment, but I have two difficulties with it. First, there is a lack of a specific commitment to an RUC museum. Secondly, it does not place any pressure upon the Northern Ireland Office to address this issue ahead of the devolution of policing and justice. Alan McFarland made that important point, and I will perhaps elaborate on that in a moment.
My party certainly wants to see a much more collective approach to commemoration, remembrance and reflection across our society. Although the Eames/Bradley group’s report is far from perfect, it should certainly inform discussion in that regard. Whether it is under the Eames/Bradley group, the Commission for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland or a forum, a move should be made towards addressing those important points. That does not need to exclude studying discrete aspects of the history of Northern Ireland in relation to the Troubles and beyond. I see scope for things to move ahead on an individual basis, even though we have an overall framework. We are currently dealing with a number of inquiries into things that happened in the past. That is notwithstanding efforts to move to a much more collective way of examining the past in Northern Ireland on a more cost-effective basis. There does not have to be a one-size-fits-all approach to all of those matters.
The point has been made that any museum is not simply based around what happened in relation to the RUC and the Troubles and it reflects a much wider history of policing, not just in Northern Ireland but on the island as a whole, before the Troubles broke out. It is also worth recognising that a particularly important contribution was made by the RUC. I appreciate that what I am going to say is not a view held by everyone in this House, but it is important to recognise that the RUC was the final line against anarchy breaking out in Northern Ireland during the years of the Troubles. The semblance of the rule of law and democracy that we had during that time would not have been possible without the contribution of the RUC.
Of course, policing in this part of the world is an extremely contentious and difficult issue. In many respects, policing and the matter of who controls the police has been at the heart of the Troubles and the conflict that has occurred here over the past number of years. I am certainly not saying that the history of the RUC is unblemished. There were acts, both institutional and individual, that were wrong. When a more detailed scrutiny is carried out into the past, regardless of whether that happens under a legacy commission, Eames/Bradley or some other body, no doubt the state will have to face up to some difficult truths. Equally, other organisations and individuals will have to face up to difficult truths, and it is important that they are prepared to co-operate by coming forward in the same way as the state will be under pressure to do. However, such considerations need not detract from the contributions that were made by many individual officers, who did nothing but serve on behalf of their community and who provided that service honourably. Indeed, during the Troubles, a category of people in our society were targets for no other reason than the nature of their job. Indeed, the men and women of the RUC were very much in that category.
In order that we can have a clean start after the devolution of policing and justice, it is important that we address legacy matters now. I add this subject to that list. The Northern Ireland Office should follow through on its commitments. It is unreasonable to burden the incoming devolution settlement with them. I am enough of a neo-Keynesian to say that spending the money in the forthcoming financial year makes economic sense. We are talking about getting people to work and bringing forward capital spend, which implementing this proposal would achieve.
If stones could speak, they would tell thousands of stories as we walk around the memorial garden that honours the standing of, as Alan McFarland said, policing on this island and, particularly, the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That memorial garden is at Knock, in Belfast, and it contains tablets of stone on which is carved a roll of honour that speaks of Northern Ireland’s incredible history. Indeed, that history is echoed around this Chamber. Looking around, I am reminded of a Constable Morrow and two constables named Donaldson, as well as the incredible memory of a District Inspector Durkan.
The fact should not be lost on the House that the memorial garden is not for one side or the other. It is not a memorial to or a history of one side or the other; it is about recounting facts about and the history of Northern Ireland. To turn our minds from that fact or to take our hands away from delivering on that history by not putting a memorial in place tells, in itself, a story about our society’s ineptitude and failure to come to terms with its past.
The technical arguments that have been advanced in order to dilly and delay are unacceptable. Those arguments are about spending £5 million. However, if we delay implementing the proposal and the matter comes before the Assembly after policing and justice has been devolved, believe you me, the financial resources will not be available. Now is the time to extract from the Northern Ireland Office a portion of the £5 million that is required to complete the project, so that it might deliver what it was supposed to deliver almost 10 years ago.
One Member argued that time and space must be created, but that would defeat us. By delaying we falter, and, if we falter in delivering this project, we would fail not just ourselves and the House but the people who are entitled to have an important, proper and telling history of the events that, for such a long time, affected every man, woman and child in this Province.
The SDLP has been attempting to spook nationalist horses. Every aspect of this matter has been settled. Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP — all the political parties that are represented on the Policing Board — endorsed a properly fleshed-out business case. It was wrong for Alex Attwood to attempt to pull the rug from under the feet of his colleague Dolores Kelly, for that is what happened in the Chamber today. It is wrong, because, as I said in an intervention, the Policing Board gave its consent on 11 March last year to the building of an RUC museum. Its support was not partial or given after some consideration but was unanimous. As a consequence, the Policing Board commissioned work to be carried out. That resulted in the Chief Constable backing that work and in the ball being put firmly in the court of the Northern Ireland Office to deliver on it.
What happened earlier was completely objectionable and indicates that the SDLP is trying to spook nationalist horses. Today, they are indulging in a huge amount of theatre, and they are doing so for one reason: the European election that will be held in a few weeks’ time. That is incredibly sad, and it reflects the minds of pygmies rather than the minds of people who are prepared to be political giants on an issue on which strident and positive steps forward should be made.
The RUC museum project should go ahead. We are entitled to it, and by “we” I mean all the people of Northern Ireland. They are entitled to see their history recorded appropriately and in a way that honours some of Ulster’s most gallant and fallen people.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Dúirt mo chara Raymond McCartney go bhfuil Sinn Féin ag iarraidh ár stair a choinneáil, ach ní bheimid ag tabhairt tacaíochta don rún seo ná don leasú. My colleague Raymond McCartney has set out Sinn Féin’s position on the RUC museum. We believe that it is important that our history be preserved and told in its entirety. We know that there are many aspects of our history on which many of us disagree. As my colleague Jim Shannon said, there are facts and there is history. However, there are some disputed versions of our history and of what we have been told are historical and, I might add, contemporary facts.
Sinn Féin is conscious that the proposed RUC museum presents its own challenges; every Member will acknowledge and accept that. There is a challenge as to how we define our society’s history of policing going back many decades. We are in a much better place now, and that must be acknowledged. Political giants in our society and community have enabled all of us to be in the better place in which we are today.
Sinn Féin believes that the matter would be better placed within the remit of OFMDFM, because the appointment of the Victims’ Commission is an example of how OFMDFM can rise to the challenge if the will exists and political accommodation is sought among the various parties and other participants. The matter should be in the hands of OFMDFM. It delivered in the case of the Victims’ Commission, where, at least, it laid the groundwork for its establishment. In the time ahead, we want to see a similar approach taken to ensure that the matter is dealt with maturely and professionally. The approach must be sensitive to all the views that are held, not least those of the police family. I wish to acknowledge that. However, wider views must be taken on board. Policing here has been a long-standing issue of some import, and, as I said, we have moved to a better place in that regard. We still have some distance to travel, but we have laid important and positive foundations, and we are making substantial progress.
My party and I look forward to a time when we can properly reflect the history of policing in a way that allows everyone to identify with and recognise the history as it is spelt out according to their views and their version of history. Let me be frank: many of the views across our community are deeply held, and justifiably held.
It may be a bit premature to suggest locating the museum at Brooklyn headquarters because, as some Members will know — Policing Board members will certainly know — a very important discussion on the police estate has yet to take place, and the headquarters site may not be left unscathed. We do not know how much of the current estate will remain in the hands of the PSNI. Policing Board members have acknowledged that that matter must be dealt with to ensure that the PSNI can more inclusively take forward full service delivery in a professional and financially efficient manner. In delivering that service, we must not only focus on today but look ahead to tomorrow.
Sinn Féin is not arguing that this matter should not be progressed for financial reasons; we are simply saying that the issue is far too important to be dealt with in the manner outlined in the motion and the amendment. As my colleague Raymond McCartney said, we will support neither the motion nor the amendment, because we believe that it would be much better to place the matter within the remit of OFMDFM so that it can be dealt with in a more inclusive way. Go raibh maith agat.
I am firmly of the opinion that the motion seeks to ensure that due respect is paid to the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross and the role that its members played in the darkest days of the Troubles. None of us should underestimate that role, and we should all be grateful to the men and women of the RUC for the job that they did in the most difficult of circumstances. Few other police forces in Europe and, perhaps, worldwide did — or do — a comparable job. Moreover, few other forces lost so many of their officers — from both sides of the community, men and women, full-time and part-time — as they carried out their duties or when off duty. The fact that those officers continued to patrol every community, despite the difficulties, is the reason why there should be a permanent museum to the RUC and its valiant officers.
From the 1960s to the needless name change of Northern Ireland’s police force, the police’s job changed beyond all recognition. The history of how policing in Northern Ireland adapted, developed and responded to changing circumstances must be given a proper place in Northern Ireland’s history. The best way to do that is to ensure that a museum is established that charts the course of the RUC and the changes that were forced upon it by events.
The ideal location for such a museum is near the garden of remembrance because the officers who are commemorated there paid the ultimate price for performing their duty in extreme circumstances. The memory of those officers and the history of the RUC are so deeply entwined as to be virtually inseparable. The Northern Ireland Office must ensure that funding for the project is made available as a matter of urgency so that the museum can be opened at the earliest possible opportunity.
The amendment seeks to muddy the waters of the debate and to complicate and extend the process of establishing a museum. It is a great pity that the Members who tabled the amendment cannot give the motion their full and wholehearted support. I urge them and every Member to support the motion as proposed by my colleagues.
I support the motion, but our party will not support the SDLP amendment. The creation of a policing or RUC museum would be an important manifestation of the cultural identity of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, quite apart from its historical significance. The RUC was important not only to the majority community but to all law-abiding citizens in all communities, and it is well worth reminding people of that. It is also, therefore, an important part of our history.
On a wall in my office in this Building is a copy of a memorial picture entitled ‘Our Murdered Colleagues’, which honours all the RUC officers who lost their lives during the recent conflict. In my work in the Assembly, it serves as a daily reminder of the huge sacrifices made by the men and women of the RUC. It is unfortunate that the PSNI has made a huge sacrifice recently. We must never return to the days of widespread and wholescale loss for those who work to create better conditions for all of us in Northern Ireland.
Academic researchers could use the existing museum’s archive of police records from the 1840s onwards. The reference library and archive allows visitors to find information on ancestors who served in the RIC and the early RUC. The existing museum also provides a base for the RUC George Cross Historical Society, which promotes and encourages research into police history in general.
There is a broader significance to the museum, as there is also a cross-community context and a North/South context, which all sides in the Assembly would do well to remember. RUC veterans have asked the Irish Government to help establish a museum to promote and celebrate the history of policing on the island of Ireland. The memorabilia collection to be housed in Belfast will display uniforms, helmets and weapons that date back to the Royal Irish Constabulary, the all-Ireland force that kept order between 1822 and 1922. Exhibitions will also feature the Dublin Metropolitan Police of 1836 to 1925; the Irish Republican Police of 1920 to 1922, which sounds ironic; the RUC of 1922 to 2001; the Garda Síochána of 1922 to the present time; and the present PSNI. The whole project was the brainchild of the RUC George Cross Foundation, which was established in 2001 to commemorate the force that was replaced by the PSNI. The foundation has gone out of its way and met President Mary McAleese at Áras an Uachtaráin, along with members of the Garda Síochána Historical Society and the Garda Síochána Retired Members’ Association. In any of those contexts, it would be reasonable to expect that, eight years after the PSNI replaced the RUC, a museum to commemorate the RUC should be properly funded and that building on the project should begin.
The Government should honour the commitments given previously. It would be a bad signal for the whole community if we were to engage in penny-pinching on the matter. The absolute sums involved are not so large, and the cross-community context is widely acceptable. I endorse the motion.
At this stage of the debate and after having followed so many Members who support the motion, I do not need to continue with too much detail to make a case for a museum, as the strong case for it has been related by colleagues. Not least is the service and sacrifice of the members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary throughout the Troubles. I consider myself fortunate not to have a family member on the list that the Member who spoke previously referred to, but I know many families who have and who still grieve the loss of a loved one. A permanent exhibitions and fitting tribute to them in the form of a museum would be only right and proper.
As has been said, the memorial garden is already on site at Brooklyn. I hesitate to use the word “success”, but the attraction of international visitors of some renown to that site shows how well loved that force was, and its sacrifice has been honoured by many from far and wide.
The previous Member who spoke made an important point that should not be missed. He said that the museum would be one of policing in Ireland in its widest context, from the Royal Irish Constabulary to the Royal Ulster Constabulary through to the modern day. I have learned that some exhibits of policing in Ireland date right back to 1814, but that they cannot get a proper display in the current —
The Member made a very positive point about visitor numbers. More than 4,000 people visit the current garden of remembrance each year. That means that, since the garden opened, more than 20,000 people could have visited an accompanying museum. Washington has the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and other places have memorials. As the Member rightly said, we are missing a huge opportunity that has significant tourism potential.
I thank the Member for his intervention, and he is correct. There is a wonderful memorial garden at Brooklyn, but there is nothing to tell the stories behind the names of the people that are inscribed on the tablets that he spoke about earlier.
“The garden of remembrance, along with the RUC Museum will draw together both projects into a complete RUC experience where visitors can reflect on the sacrifices of the RUC”.
Therefore, he saw the matter in the same way that I, the Member and others in the Chamber see it. A holistic approach needs to be taken to the story of the RUC and policing in Ireland. There cannot be a memorial without a museum or an interpretative centre that tells the story of the people who are being remembered and of the history of policing in Ireland.
Anyone who has seen the existing police museum at Brooklyn would agree that it is insufficient to exhibit properly artefacts that date back to the early 1800s and that it is not an appropriate way of telling the story of the RUC and policing in Ireland.
I understand that 8,000 artefacts could be made available to such a museum; I am sure that the Member is aware of those. I am also sure that he would agree that that fact complements Ian Paisley Jnr’s point that a museum would attract more tourists. There would be more than an hour’s or even two hours’ viewing in a museum of that stature.
The Member is right to say that there is great potential for those artefacts to be exhibited properly. In the past, my colleague the Member for North Down and his council tried to have some of the artefacts moved out and displayed in the North Down Borough Council area. However, they were told that that could not happen because of the sensitivity of the items. It would be entirely appropriate for those artefacts to be displayed permanently in an RUC museum.
The other great case for building an RUC museum is that it would contribute to greater understanding. I know that there are some Members in the Chamber who would not visit a museum of that kind regularly. However, deep down, I think that even they would appreciate the point of having an RUC museum and would know that it would contribute to an understanding of policing in Ireland and, indeed, our recent history.
In the early part of the decade, the former Secretary of State promised monetary assistance for the project. A lot of time has elapsed without any product having come out of that promise. Words come cheap, and it is high time that that promise was met. Through our work on the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, other Members and I are aware that the RUC George Cross Foundation continues to make the case for the project to be granted capital funding. It has clearly drawn an expectation from the promise that the former Secretary of State made.
An RUC museum would exhibit policing in a positive way, contribute greatly to an understanding of policing and bring obvious tourism benefits for the people of Northern Ireland. Everything that can be done, including feasibility studies and business cases, has been done. The case is compelling, and, therefore, I support the motion. I call on the Secretary of State, the NIO, and the Government to fulfil the promise that was made and to meet the expectation for an RUC museum to be built at the Brooklyn site.