RUC Special Branch Remains Largely Intact [from An Spréach Issue 2]

‘A new era’ and ‘a police force for all’ were the buzzwords of the year, when the 'Police Service of Northern Ireland' [PSNI] was formally constituted in 2001. Their inception was accompanied by a huge public relations exercise designed to sell the force to the republican and nationalist community.

17 years later, with so-called positive recruitment campaigns and other initiatives, the question must be asked, just how much of the Royal Ulster Constabulary [RUC] remains?

Well, to put it quite simply, ALMOST ALL OF IT.

The legislation that founded the PSNI, the ‘Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000’, states quite bluntly that ‘The body of constables known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary shall continue in being…’ and that ‘The body of constables…shall be styled for operational purposes the “Police Service of Northern Ireland”’.

When we dispose of the legal jargon, this means that the RUC were never disbanded, as was the core republican demand in years previous, but simply re-branded as the PSNI.

And, just like the RUC, its much despised ‘Special Branch’ did not go away either. The same public relations exercise was applied and it, just like the RUC, was re-branded and reformed into what is now known as ‘C3 Intelligence Branch’.

Its responsibilities include intelligence gathering by undercover operatives, the infiltration of Republican political organisations for the aim of disruption and intelligence gathering, and the recruitment and running of Covert Human Intelligence Sources. That’s ‘touts’ to you and me.

Well known amongst Republican political activists in the Six Counties and working hand in glove with C3 Intelligence Branch are the PSNI’s ‘Tactical Support Group’ [TSG]. Trained in ‘specialist tactics’, its duties include search, method of entry, ‘counter terrorism’ and surveillance amongst others.

Trained to use specialist tools and equipment to gain entry to premises, they plan, manage, and advise on all search activity conducted by the PSNI in relation to ‘counter terrorism’. Their ‘Specialist Counter Terrorist’ patrols are intelligence led and provide ‘security’ in areas that they deem a ‘specific threat’. TSG patrols support operational colleagues including C3 Intelligence Branch, The National Crime Agency and other intelligence agencies including Mi5.

These two agencies, C3 and the TSG, provide the basis of a re-branded RUC Special Branch. They use the same tactics and methods as the Special Branch, and for the same purpose. And it is not only the political, tactical and methodical approach to ‘policing’ that has remained the same, their religious balance stands in stark contrast to the PSNI’s broader statistics and that of the Six Counties as a whole. A 2016 ‘Labour Force Survey’ indicated that, of the working age population in ‘Northern Ireland’, 44% were Catholic and 40% were Protestant.

But according to recent statistics published by the PSNI, their religious make-up comprises 67% perceived as ‘Protestant’ and 32% perceived as ‘Catholic’.

Compare this with the C3 Intelligence Branch, a huge 79% of which are Protestant personnel, of which 92% are former RUC officers.

In 2013 the PSNI stated that ‘…the average length of total Police service for Regular Police who are currently attached to C3 Intelligence is 19 ½ years. There are prerequisites to transfer into C3 Intelligence Branch based on qualifications and other factors. Therefore the 50/50 recruitment since…2001 will not have had a major effect on Community Background in C3 Intelligence Branch’.

Indeed, many years of a 50/50 recruitment policy has done little to impact the makeup of the new Special Branch. It remains almost 80% protestant, a dim representation of a population that is almost 50% Catholic.

Little wonder then that, employing the same modus operandi, the same political direction and indeed the same workforce, we have the same outcomes.

The dirty hand of C3 Intelligence Branch can be seen in the recruitment of informants in the Six Counties. Few have been brave enough to make it publicly known about their interaction. One who has, highlighted in August 2017 that C3 members attempted to coerce him into becoming an informer by suggesting that they would release information that indicated he had already been working with them, a lie which if believed, no doubt posed a risk to the individuals’ life.

This revelation came just days after Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire launched an investigation into the activities of some officers attached to the undercover police unit amid claims that they were working for a suspected drug dealer. Covert recordings of the C3 Intelligence Branch officers trying to recruit an informer indicate the tactics of the force and their willingness to break the very ‘laws’ they are supposedly tasked to implement.

Those officers detailed that, in return for intelligence on a specific individual, they would wipe the potential informers’ information from the PSNI computer database, as well as cover his expenses and supply thousands of pounds in cash, whilst also giving him free reign to continue his alleged drug dealing activities. More worrying was their apparent willingness on the recordings to implicate at least two other innocent men for the work of the potential informer.

These events and more, all well publicised, give a stark reminder of the activities of RUC Special Branch. They also expose the myth that is a police service representative of the whole of the Six Counties. The reality on the ground is that the PSNI are no more trusted by the Republican & Nationalist community than were the RUC, particularly in working class areas. The continued use of draconian stop & search legislation such as the Justice & Security Act, and the deployment of weaponry here such as plastic bullets, unused in other parts of the ‘United Kingdom’, give truth to the lie of a reformed state, never mind a reformed ‘Police Service’.

Contributed to An Spréach Issue 2 by Pól Torbóid