Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors have backed a DUP motion for a “tangible and lasting” commemoration in the borough to the former RUC, a centenary after its formation.
Speaking at a recent meeting of the borough council, Threemilewater Councillor Sam Flanagan noted the policing organisation, which was formed in June 1922, was awarded the George Cross in 1999 in recognition of the force’s “collective courage”.
“Earlier this year, many in our society came together to mark the centenary of the RUC’s formation and policing in Northern Ireland,” he said.
He also recalled that King Charles III paid tribute to the organisation during his visit to the province in September.
“I thought it was appropriate to mark this in council and to reflect and commemorate this milestone,” Cllr Flanagan stated.
He pointed out that 302 police officers lost their lives during the Troubles, more than 10,000 officers were injured, 300 severely disabled, 1,100 families had to be rehoused.
“I know of a number of RUC families who lost loved ones. I know that pain is still there and still raw. The heroism of those officers will never be forgotten by any of us in Northern Ireland. it cannot ever be repaid.
“It took courage to be a member of the RUC. Those brave families deserve our recognition.”
Former RUC officer Glengormley Councillor Paula Bradley told the meeting: “I am absolutely delighted to support this motion. I wore that uniform for ten years. Those were ten years of fear.”
Cllr Bradley spoke of the apprehension of her children who knew the escape route in their house.
“I know what it was like to live in fear and always to be alert and to be checking. I also know that the RUC was not perfect, but like any organisation is not perfect, but the vast majority of the men and women I served with were honourable people. They were there to do a day’s work to protect society and uphold the law.
“I know of families who suffered greatly, marriages that broke up, health that declined because of pressures they were put under. Many, many people suffered greatly.”
Macedon Ulster Unionist Councillor Robert Foster stated: “There is not a cemetery in this borough that does not have a member of the RUC in it. The RUC did a most sterling job in the most trying circumstances.”
Antrim SDLP Councillor Roisin Lynch said that she recognises the strong emotion and strength of feeling brought by this motion and accepts the wish for a "tangible and lasting commemoration” in Antrim and Newtownabbey.
“We accept that everyone has the right to remember and commemorate the past in a way of their own but we do not feel we can support the motion. SDLP will abstain.”
Cllr Lynch went on to say that the SDLP accepts that the majority of officers were “ordinary people doing a job”. However, she said she believed that “a significant minority have been found to have been engaged in collusion or unjustifiable behaviour”.
“While we understand the Unionist community holds the RUC in high regard, we cannot ignore the issues that existed within the RUC based on institutional problems. Many retired RUC officers refused to co-operate with legacy investigations depriving relatives of truth and justice.
“The RUC did not command the confidence of all communities and it was right that it was disbanded.”
Glengormley Sinn Fein Councillor Michael Goodman spoke of “rank hypocrisy” towards his party within the chamber.
“We have not used those motions to politicise those being brought forward when we could have done so but we deliberately did not.
“We understand the RUC is particularly emotional and emotive organisation for the Unionist community but the people who brought forward this motion many not be old enough to remember that not all communities supported the work the RUC did.
“If this council wants to move forward issues like this, they need to be dealt with in a better way. Bringing motions like this into the chamber only creates division.”
Cllr Flanagan responded: “Officers of the RUC served with bravery. His political rhetoric and well-worn out vitriolic content just makes me sad.”
The motion was approved after 27 councillors voted in favour with four Sinn Fein councillors voting against and three SDLP absentions.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was formed on November 4 2001. The first of the newly recruited PSNI officers commenced their duties in April 2002.