Sinn Fein and unionists clash over Mid and East Antrim Council’s RUC tribute plan

The Braid, Ballymena

Ballymena DUP Alderman Audrey Wales MBE suggested dedicating a memorial window to the RUC in the Council’s main civic building to commemorate the police who were replaced by the PSNI in 2001.

She pointed out that the proposal was first made during the old Ballymena Borough Council.

However, Bannside Sinn Féin Councilor Ian Friary said he felt the RUC’s centenary should not be celebrated.

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“The RUC, their role, their history, their involvement in the conflict should not be commemorated or celebrated. It was a biased, partisan state force that was complicit in the murder of citizens here and it had to be disbanded,” Cllr Friary claimed.

He added: “The Council should not mark its formation.”

Bannside TUV Cllr Timothy Gaston stated: “Disgraceful comments from a Bannside representative. I am happy to support Ald Wales’ proposal. A very fitting tribute it would be.”

Ballymena DUP Ald John Carson commented: “I am absolutely disgusted by these comments. I come from a family of which five served proudly in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. One of those five was murdered in the city of Londonderry.

“I’m annoyed. But for my late father and uncles, I will not accept these kinds of speeches from anyone. I will forward these comments to the Ombudsman and see what he has to say about it.

“I was one of the backers of Ballymena Council’s proposal for a commemorative window for the RUC George Cross to be installed in Ballymena Town Hall.”

Carrickfergus Castle DUP Ald Billy Ashe MBE commented: “I would like to add to this proposal that we are putting up a plaque in our memorial garden in memory of the RUC who I think have done a good job.”

Party colleague Cllr Gregg McKeen said: “If we build a window and memorial stone here in Carrick Memorial Garden, it would be appropriate to do something similar at Larne Memorial Garden to commemorate the RUC, for whom we have an enduring tribute for the services of Royal Ulster Constabulary in each of our capital cities over the years.”

Cllr Gaston continued: “I also look forward to the inauguration in a few weeks at Ballymena Memorial Gardens.”

An RUC George Cross Memorial is to be unveiled and dedicated by the Ballymena RUC George Cross Association on 22 May at Ballymena Memorial Park.

Mid and East Antrim Mayor Cllr William McCaughey will host a memorial service on June 1st.

Meanwhile, the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross (RUC GC) Foundation will mark the centenary of policing in Northern Ireland with a series of events including a service at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast to celebrate the “commitment, sacrifice and the Distinguished Service by Officers”.

RUC GC Foundation Chairman Stephen White OBE said the anniversary will focus on “remembrance and acts of courage and heroism since the RUC was founded in June 1922”.

Mr White, who served in the RUC GC and PSNI before retiring as Assistant Chief Constable, said that from the RUC’s formation in June 1922 until the force’s incorporation into the PSNI, a total of 462 people lost their lives in service or in service.

These included seven officers killed in German air raids on Belfast during World War II, but the bulk of the victims, 302 men and women, were murdered in terrorist attacks during the ‘riots’. Two PSNI officers were murdered as a result of terrorist attacks and others were left with life-changing injuries.

Mr White said: “The troubles easily eclipsed anything that had happened before, save for their level of savagery and brutality. Of the 462 officers who died in the line of duty, 302 were murdered between 1969 and 1998. Over 8,000 were injured, more than 300 severely disabled.”

He pointed out that 1,200 police families were forced to flee their homes due to terrorist threats.

“Countless thousands of lives have been saved by officials who took enormous risks to thwart, undermine and combat dedicated terrorist organizations on both sides of the religious and political divide,” he continued

“In our centenary year, we will pay special tribute to the sacrifices and achievements of the RUC GC. A series of events will reflect and honor those who are unable to be with us, reaching out to families still suffering from acute pain and saying, “We will always be by your side.”

Michelle Weir, reporter for local democracy

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