Police must reveal secret society links

The Observer (England), July 27, 2003
Henry McDonald, Ireland editor

The police service of Northern Ireland is to become the first in the Western world to make officers register their membership of secret societies such as the Masons.

A Register of Interest will become mandatory for all policemen and women up to and including Chief Constable Hugh Orde within the next three weeks.

And the register, which will reveal how many officers hold membership of the Orange Order, will also be handed over to Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan. She will have the right to refer during investigations into alleged bias, maltreatment of suspects or the mishandling of police inquiries to any officer’s membership of secret societies.

The Observer has learnt that the Northern Ireland Policing Board will endorse the Register of Interest at its next meeting in September.

The move to force police officers to disclose membership of the Masons, Orange Order, Apprentice Boys of Derry, the Royal Black Institution, as well as secretive Catholic sects such as Opus Dei, is seen as a key component of Chris Patten’s reforms into policing in the Province. The Patten Report led to the transformation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary into the PSNI.

Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kincaid, who heads the PSNI’s Values and Human Rights Group, is overseeing policing reforms. The group was set up to imbue ‘human rights values’ in the service. All recruits have to swear an oath of allegiance declaring their commitment to upholding human rights.

A spokesman for the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, the body representing rank-and-file officers in the Province, said there was some disquiet about the register. ‘Our members see it as an unnecessary action, slightly PC, which in a sense questions the professionalism of officers,’ he added.

Revealing how many police officers are either Masons or Orangemen will be welcomed by nationalist politicians, who have argued for some time that membership of the Orange Order is incompatible with being a police officer. The PSNI often has to marshal, or in some cases physically block, Orange marches through Catholic areas.

The old RUC was dogged by allegations that individual officers, in the main Ulster Protestants, were policemen by day and Orangemen by night. However, since the Drumcree marching dispute erupted in the mid-1990s there has been a sharp decline in policemen and women holding membership of the Orange Order. Officers have been severely injured by Orange protesters at Drumcree and other sectarian flashpoints.

Meanwhile the moderate nationalist party, the SDLP, is under fire this weekend for appearing to claim Hugh Orde as one of its own.

The party’s summer newsletter, distributed across Northern Ireland, claims responsibility for Orde being appointed Chief Constable. Under the headline ‘SDLP Driving Patten’, the party claims it got Orde – who investigated loyalist collusion – into the post. The SDLP goes on to allege that it also ensured that the former RUC Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, was put out of his job, despite the fact that he retired from the force.

Ian Paisley Jr, a Democratic Unionist member of the Policing Board, accused the SDLP of being guilty of ‘a wild imagination’.

Alex Attwood, the SDLP’s justice spokesman and also a member of the Policing Board, defended the party’s claim that it had got Orde ‘in’. He pointed out that seven of the eight senior commanders in the old RUC had now gone.

‘The truth is Orde delivered on his promises – especially that Special Branch would come under the control of a Crime/Intelligence Branch. Even the republicans we encounter on the doorstep accept that Orde is different from what went before him,’ he said.

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