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RUC promotional film was 'far from reality'

By Robin Sheeran

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  • The Troubles
media captionOfficers deal with a fictional lock-in situation as part of the promotional film.

Cynical Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers would have found a 1976 police promotional film "laughable", a former head of Northern Ireland's Police Federation has said.

'Policeday' is a 25-minute documentary that purports to show everyday life in the force at the time, but contains no references to the Troubles.

Donald Milliken, who was an RUC inspector at the time, says the film was "far away from reality".

"Policemen at the time were quite cynical," he says, "we were vilified by both sides."

In 1976, the Troubles had been raging for several years, but some unusual images were chosen by the RUC in attempt to persuade people that they were still engaged in "normal" policing.

image captionA side of 1970s policing not shown in the film - in reality the RUC were heavily armed.

These include two constables chasing a herd of cows into a field, a moustachioed officer in an "RUC Disco Club" t-shirt , and a man walking into a police office carrying a dead fox by the tail.

Mr Milliken says the RUC in the mid-70s was in crisis with talk of disbandment.

Although officers only occasionally found themselves in direct danger, and normal police work went on despite the violence on the streets, he says the film "didn't grasp the terrible situation in 1976".

Two hundred and ninety-five people died in as a result of the Troubles in 1976, so why did the authorities issue what now appears to be a rather blunt piece of propaganda?

image copyrightNI Screen
image caption'Hard cop, soft cop' in the interview room.

Journalist Chris Ryder says the film needs to be seen in the context of the times.

The government had a new policy of "Ulsterisation" which meant they wanted to pull back the Army into barracks and increase the role of the RUC and the locally-recruited Ulster Defence Regiment.

"There was a drive to persuade people to regard the police as ordinary police, and not as an anti-terrorist force," he says, and part of a strategy to label the IRA as criminals rather than politically motivated.

image copyrightNI Screen
image captionBlue Lamp discos toured youth clubs around Northern Ireland.

"The Blue Lamp discos were also part of that," Mr Ryder says, referring to the teenage dance clubs run by the community relations branch.

There was no let-up in the conflict and Ulsterisation failed, partly because the more the police were exposed on the streets "the more they were open to attack," he adds.

media captionThe film includes a scene showing officers giving directions to members of the public.

Certain scenes from 'Policeday' seem like outtakes from 'The Sweeney' - two detectives are filmed through a peephole grilling a suspect in an interview room.

In another, two policemen remove a suspect from a Ford Escort and frogmarch him into the station.

image copyrightNI Screen
image captionRounding up escapees in the Ulster countryside.

Criminologist Dr Graham Ellison of Queen's University Belfast says that 1976 was still early days for the Troubles, and that "maybe there was a view that this wouldn't last, that policing would return to that role".

media captionRUC officers take part in a search for drugs in the 25-minute film.

He says he is not entirely surprised by the film as it fits with the reform policies of Sir Kenneth Newman, the newly-appointed chief constable.

Dr Ellison says that in the 1980s, following the hunger strikes it was clear the Troubles would continue for a considerable time and "there was almost a remilitarisation of the police".

image captionThe RUC's attempts to portray itself as a community police force were doomed to failure.

More than 15 years after its dissolution, the RUC remains as controversial as ever.

Critics point to a number of reports which said RUC officers colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in a number of killings, while supporters continue to view it as a first line of defence against terrorism.

Seen from a modern perspective, Policeday seems a bizarre aberration, not least in the light of the 27 police officers who died as a direct result of the Troubles in 1976.

Policeday is one of the many historical films you can view online from Northern Ireland Screen's Digital Film Archive and the British Film Institute's BFI Player.

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