Canada and the World

POLICING HATRED

A Canadian cop is helping oversee the tough job of bringing Northern Ireland’s police force into the 21st century

DEBORAH DUNDAS July 30 2001
Canada and the World

POLICING HATRED

A Canadian cop is helping oversee the tough job of bringing Northern Ireland’s police force into the 21st century

DEBORAH DUNDAS July 30 2001

POLICING HATRED

A Canadian cop is helping oversee the tough job of bringing Northern Ireland’s police force into the 21st century

Canada and the World

DEBORAH DUNDAS

She came home from work on July 2 to find the contents of her apartment demolished. Microwave, television and dishes smashed—nothing stolen, just wanton destruction. For 23-year-old Clare, a Catholic resident of central Belfast who asked that her last name not be used, it was a troubling development. While Catholics are often assaulted by Protestant teenagers who hurl insults, botdes and rocks and occasionally, it seems, even ransack their homes, her neighbourhood had been relatively peaceful. According to some residents, the vandalism was a sign that the flames of age-old enmities were being further fanned—with the Protestant-dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary standing idly by. “The police know this kind of thing happens and who does it,” said one of Clares neighbours as she surveyed the damage, “and they do nothing.”

Reform of the police, and the integration of more Catholics into their ranks, is one solution. But in the sectarian maelstrom that is Northern Ireland—intensified by a wave of recent rioting and what some say is the failure of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord—nothing is simple. Under the terms of the accord, the Irish Republican Army agreed to decommission—only if, among other things, the RUC, seen by many Catholics as nothing more than a paramilitary organization, becomes a modern police force. So far, little is happening. Mervyn Gibson, a Presbyterian minister and former RUC officer, says that because the IRA has failed to turn in its weapons, a revamped RUC will be difficult to achieve because that would leave the Protestant community threatened. “If the IRA goes back to war,” he says, “theyd be going back with a dismanded police force, and the whole community would be vulnerable.” Welcome to AÍ Hutchinson’s world—no decommissioning without a reformed police force, no reformed police force without decommissioning. It is far removed from Brampton, Ont., where he was born, and London, Ont., where he served three years as head of the RCMP’s Ontario division. Since January, Hutchinson, 53, has been in Belfast—as chief of staff for the Office of the Oversight Commissioner for Policing Reform in Northern Ireland. His task is to help oversee the implementation of the Patten Report, a collection of 175 recommendations on policing compiled by Chris Patten, the former British governor of Hong Kong, and incorporated into the Good Friday agreement.

As well as recommending greater integration of the RUC, Patten

wanted more civilian involvement and suggested the force become less militaristic. By monitoring the reforms over the coming years, Hutchinson, who has an open-ended mandate, is an integral part of the RUC’s efforts to drag itself into the 21th century by becoming a modern, integrated police force.

Good luck.

Tensions between the RUC and Northern Irelands Catholics have always run high. Lately, they have been stretched to the breaking point, with riots in Belfast that have left more than 120 police officers injured. The violence, which continued last week, peaked on July 12 when Protestants marched near Catholic neighbourhoods to celebrate past military victories over their rivals. Catholics took to the streets, venting their ire not only at the marchers but also at the RUC, which they say inadequately protects them—and sometimes provokes them.

The fighting caps nearly a month of political turmoil. David Trimble, First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, resigned on July 1 when the IRA missed yet another deadline to hand over its weapons. Britain and Ireland, the main sponsors of the agreement, have now established a deadline of Aug. 12 to achieve some form of decommissioning. But there appears to be

little room for a compromise. Even a plea for the IRA to disarm from President George W. Bush, who was on a state visit to London last week, fell on deaf ears.

For Gerry Adams, the leader of the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein, it came down to the accord—and the other side of the equation. His organization, Adams said, will never turn in its weapons until the RUC begins recruiting large numbers of Catholics. That demand finds wide support in Belfast’s Catholic neighbourhoods. “Policing is the most urgent thing, even more than decommissioning,” says Brenda Smyth, a Catholic mother of five children who lives just two blocks from the site of the worst rioting. “If we had a proper police force, the Catholic people would have more faith. How would we feel if the IRA does not have any weapons to protect us?”

AÍ Hutchinson’s office is in a low-rise yellow-brick building in a leafy Belfast suburb. On one wall is a plaque given to him by Toronto police Chief Julian Fantino when Hutchinson retired as an assistant commissioner of the RCMP earlier this year. On another wall hangs a print he found while browsing through a local antique store. It depicts nine English bobbies sitting on a bench, each with a pint of beer. Its original tide was The Nine Pints of the Law. Hutchinson has renamed it The Changing Faces of Policing— to remind him of the challenges he faces in his new work.

His first impression of Northern Ireland was misleading. Before agreeing to take the job in December, Hutchinson and his wife,

Dianna, a retired schoolteacher, spent a week in Belfast. Aside from some research on the Internet,

Hutchinson didn’t know much about the place. “We went Christmas shopping in downtown Belfast,” he says. “There was a joyous spirit, and it was hard to reconcile that with what I had just read about the Troubles over the past 30 years.”

The couple, who have three grown children, are now settling into their new life—furnishing their apartment, seeing some of the sights, enjoying the beauty of the Irish coast and mountains. But Hutchinson acknowledges how dangerous his assignment is by refusing to say where in Belfast he and his wife live.

And he doesn’t have to look far to know that the odds of success are stacked against him.

Another Canadian, Gen. John de Chastelain, has spent the past six years trying to get the IRA and the Protestant paramilitaries to turn in their weapons—but so far has failed. And on July 12, Hutchinson was formally baptized into local politics when one prominent Protestant suggested that the two Canadians should butt out of Northern Ireland’s affairs. That warning salvo came when Willie Ross, a former MP and leader of the Protestant Orange Order, blasted what he called the “surrender,” not peace, process. “We got Patten, but we didn’t get the IRA guns,” he told a cheering crowd. He then criticized the “foreigners” who have

come to Ireland to help implement the Good Friday agreement—a direct dig at Hutchinson and de Chastelain.

Hutchinson first learned of the chief of staff opening last fall, while attending the International Chiefs of Police Conference in San Diego. One of the keynote speakers was Tom Constantine, the former director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and, since May, 2000, the oversight commissioner for policing reform in Northern Ireland. Constantine, who is based in Albany, N.Y., was looking for a chief of staff who would be, effectively, his eyes and ears on the ground. “Tom painted the history and the challenges,” says Hutchinson. “He told it so eloquendy, I was captivated.”

The more Hutchinson looked into the job, the more fascinated he became with the politics, the people and history of the RUC. Until 1922, when Ireland gained its independence, the entire country was policed by the Royal Irish Constabulary. After partition, six counties within the province of Ulster remained British and became what is now Northern Ireland. The RUC was formed from the RIC to police that territory. But policing soon came to mean one overriding activity: fighting the IRA when it began a renewed offensive against both British rule and Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority in the 1960s.

In spite of that bloody past, Hutchinson remains undeterred. After five months on the job, he and his six-member team are putting together a report, to be released in September, on the pace of change within the police force, which will be renamed

the Police Service of Northern Ireland. So far the reform process has met with modest success. A recent recruitment drive to fill 264 police positions garnered 8,000 new applicants—35 per cent of them Catholic. Hutchinson says he finds those numbers “encouraging.” But that does not mean the imbalance in the 10,000-man force, which is 90-per-cent Protestant, will be redressed quickly. “It will take time,” says Hutchinson, “for attrition to take place.”

At all cost, Hutchinson says, he must avoid becoming entangled in local politics. That was a problem de Chastelain ran into

in October when David

Trimble Challenged him

to become more proactive. Coming from a Protestant politician, the

subtext was clear: lean on the IRA. That, however, would be damaging because it would create mistrust on the Catholic side. “Our mandate is clear in the legislation,” he says. “We’re not here to talk about politics, we’re not here to talk about who does what. Were here to decommission arms.”

But just as de Chastelain has learned, the deep mistrust between Protestants and Catholics may make it difficult for Hutchinson to do his work. Gibson speaks for many Protestants when he says the IRA must blink. On the other side of the divide is Brenda Smyth, who says policing is the issue, not the IRA. When Macleans visited her recently, the yard behind her house was littered with bricks and bottles that had been thrown over her fence from the Protestant street abutting her property. A swing set painted bright blue sat amid the broken glass. “I’ve lived in this house for 21 years,” she says, “and it still does not feel like mine.”

A city councillor helped her get a so-called peace line—a fourmetre-high piece of corrugated steel—erected on top of her backyard fence. But it hasn’t stopped bottles, bricks and the odd petrol bomb from being launched over it. Smyth has complained to the police but says: “They might as well not be here. Catholics aren’t important to them.” Somehow, to succeed, Hutchinson will have to bridge that huge gulf—with few tools to work with. In way, he says, it’s like peacekeeping through diplomacy. “Moral suasion,” he adds, “is the mechanism and our only power.” And, perhaps, his only hope. E¡3

With few tools to work with, Hutchinson says, ‘Moral suasion is our only power’