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ireland, irish, ulster, ireland, irish, ulster, Sinn Féin, Irish America

Ex-IRA man interrogates Orde

(by Suzanne Breen, the Village)

Not that long ago Anthony McIntyre would have wanted to put a bullet in the back of a Chief Constable's head. To an IRA member, the only good cop was a dead cop, and Northern Ireland's most senior policeman would have been a dream target.

McIntyre's first experience of police was at 14 when he was arrested in the middle of the night at his home in Belfast's Lower Ormeau: "I was thrown into a jeep on top of another 14-year-old. I was slapped and punched during interrogation. I didn't expect that. I've hated the cops most of my life. If I could have developed a nuclear bomb and dropped it on them, I would have."

Yet this week McIntyre, who has spent 18 years in jail for murder and IRA membership, visited Police Service of Northern Ireland headquarters to interview the Chief Constable, Hugh Orde.

Now a member of the National Union of Journalists, McIntyre and his wife, Carrie Twomey, edit an online republican magazine, the Blanket. McIntyre wanted to question Orde from a "radical, republican perspective". The Chief Constable, who has adopted an "open door" policy, agreed to the interview, even though it will inevitably outrage unionists.

"What I have learned here is that, whoever you speak to, it upsets someone. We will wait and see who this upsets," Orde told McIntyre. He said it was "important to understand everyone's history if you are going to police them". But convincing republicans, after decades of conflict, to support the police won't be easy.

"I saw how the police let loyalists attack our homes," says McIntyre. "I saw how they beat civil rights' protestors off the streets, how they shot dead nine-year-old Patrick Rooney as he lay in his bed in Divis Flats.

"As a young person, you always knew they could murder you and get away with it. They were the enemy. I thought hell wasn't hot enough for them." In 1977, when he was 19, McIntyre was sentenced to life for the murder of UVF man Kenneth Lenaghan. He spent over three years on the Blanket protest in the H-Blocks.

"I was guilty but dozens of people I met weren't. They were there because the cops had beaten 'confessions' out of them. We sat in jail seething as we watched police attack republican funerals and kill children with plastic bullets. I thought they were bastards and fuckers.

"When I got out of jail in 1992, I was constantly harassed. I was stopped taking the kids to school, I was hauled out of black taxis." McIntyre believes the peace process is a capitulation of republican ideals but is opposed to any armed campaign by any republican group: "The war is over and the Brits won. When I met Hugh Orde, I was meeting the head of a victorious police force; he was meeting a former member of a defeated army."

In the interview, McIntyre asked Orde if the new Police Service of Northern Ireland represented the disbandment of the RUC. Orde replied: " On 4/11/2001, the name changed. It has got a different name." But he stressed that 1,000 new officers had been recruited: "I can't see any other organisation in Northern Ireland that has moved as quickly as we have in terms of reorganising and restructuring."

He admitted that in an organisation as big as the PSNI, "we have good cops and bad cops". McIntyre asked how republicans could trust the force when so many Special Branch officers remained.

Orde said more officers from Special Branch had left in recent years than from any other part of the force: "Those would no doubt be officers of all abilities from the outstanding to those any organisation would be happy to see the back off. Because that's the spectrum of people we have in this organisation.

"The vast majority of cops I've had dealings with since I've been here do not cause me concern. If they did I would do something about it." He did not accept that collusion between police and loyalists had been endemic. He voiced commitment to investigating any alleged collusion: "If the evidence takes us to difficult places, we go into difficult places."

Orde acknowledged the Provisional IRA had "moved on" - "they haven't attacked my people, they haven't attacked soldiers". He said it was only a matter of time before Sinn Féin joined the Policing Board: "In terms of democratic control of policing, it should happen. They have a substantial 24% of the vote."

Orde denied allegations of police forensic malpractice in several Real IRA cases. He also rejected claims of government interference in his decisions. He admitted there was the "odd racist" in PSNI ranks but pledged such individuals would be disciplined. A third of new PSNI recruits are women and Orde said his target was to have 26% female officers, compared to the UK average of 17%.

So was McIntyre convinced that policing in the North is changing? "Hugh Orde is personable, witty and intelligent. He is a man of ability with good organisational skills. He gave me no reason to doubt his personal honesty," says McIntyre.

"Orde is not part of the old RUC macho culture of hatred and bigotry. But he doesn't have to be. His predecessors were driven by the need to defeat the IRA. By his time, the IRA had already been defeated.

"He is just as political as other Chief Constables but in a different way because British government needs are different. The 1980s produced its man of the moment, the peace process has done likewise. Jack Hermon was a hard-nosed, no-nonsense peeler to deal with the hunger-strike period. The Thatcher government's war on republicanism required brute force.

"Hugh Orde is the cop to adopt a softly-softly approach to bring Sinn Féin onto the Policing Board. That's what the Blair government needs. Today policing must be more like chess than a boxing match. But the job of both Hermon and Orde is the same - to stabilise Northern Ireland and perpetuate its existence as part of the British state."

McIntyre no longer hates the police "but they remain my opponents and they need to be challenged and held to account". He claims that minimum requirements for nationalists would have been the disbandment of the RUC and a new police force organised regionally with no centralised authority.

Northern Ireland clearly isn't a "police state", he says: "The PSNI are more accountable than the RUC and that's welcome. But a whole panoply of repressive legislation remains on the statute book and can be used at any time.

"The police are still capable of brutality. Last year, I watched them baton kids in an anti-war protest outside Belfast City Hall. The hatred on their faces was the same as you once saw at IRA funerals. You knew they wanted to hit and hit hard."

McIntyre predicts Sinn Féin will imminently sign up to the Policing Board but says he will never support the PSNI and wouldn't want his children to join it: "A republican choosing to wear the uniform of a British police force is as incongruous as a prisoner putting on a prison officer's uniform during the H-Block protest.

"The religion of police officers is irrelevant, it's the state they serve that matters. If all the screws in jail had been Catholic would Bobby Sands have lived? Seamus's boot can be every bit as vicious as Mervyn's.

"Every house I've lived in since 1972 has been raided. I'm not a member or supporter of any armed group but last year 33 police Land Rovers and over 100 officers took part in a raid on my home.

"They seized the computer, mobile phones and other stuff. They were very civil and courteous and eventually the equipment was returned. But from a republican viewpoint that doesn't matter: they are still the raiders and we are still the raided."

October 31, 2004
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This article appears in the October 30, 2004 edition of the Village.

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