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Duty and courage to mark 100 years of Northern Ireland policing

A series of events will mark a century of police service in Northern Ireland.

The loss of 462 lives will be marked as part of the centenary of Northern Ireland’s policing.

A series of events reflecting remembrance and acts of courage are being organised by the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross (RUC GC) Foundation.

The centenary will be marked at Church Services in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast and the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire along with a concert, lecture and a gala dinner over the coming weeks.

They will trace the line of duty starting with the early officers from the RUC through to the current work of its successor, the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable, Stephen White, said the centenary would also reflect the wider story of society such as the air raids on Belfast during the Second World War which claimed the lives of seven officers.

Mr White said: “From its creation, the story of the RUC has been one of people and of serving the community. Its people have been at the forefront of dealing with some of our most traumatic episodes,” he said.

“Alongside this story, of sacrifices made by officers and staff, are the countless stories of what life was like for the families of officers. These are the stories of friendships and comradery, of innovations, international recognition and world-leading achievements.”

Until partition in 1922, the job of upholding the law was carried out by the Royal Irish Constabulary. But on 4 April that year – exactly a century after its creation – the force was disbanded.

In the Republic, it was succeeded by Garda Siochana and the RUC was officially formed in June 1922.

But it was the period during the Troubles, which escalated from 1969, which brought the heaviest toll on officers.

On 11 October 1969, Constable Arbuckle became the first RUC fatality when he was shot on Belfast's Shankill Road during serious rioting.

From then until the ceasefire in 1998, a further 302 men and women were murdered in terrorist attacks and 8,000 were injured – more than 300 severely disabled.

Mr White said: “Officers suffered dreadfully but so, too, did their families. 1,200 police families were forced to abandon their homes because of threats from terrorists across the political spectrum. The upheaval was immense. Often with little warning, families were spirited away to safe locations, all designed to thwart the terrorist.

“The personal cost was high with partners having to quit their jobs and children taken away from friends and relations and enrolled in new schools.”

In 1999, the RUC was awarded the George Cross for ‘collective and sustained bravery.’

Today, PSNI and Gardai are now partners in sophisticated work against organised crime gangs involved in major offences such as people smuggling. Former senior PSNI officers have transferred to take top posts with the Gardai.

And the PSNI also has the task of resolving hundreds of cases from the Troubles era.

But the threat to officer safety remains high: two PSNI officers have been murdered and others left with life-changing injuries as a result of terrorist acts.

Mr White said: “This year is a milestone for policing not only in Northern Ireland, but the entire island. It was a time of immense upheaval across Ireland, with the War of Independence, the Irish Civil War, and the creation of Northern Ireland.

“We may have made mistakes along the way, but there is no denying the commitment, bravery and integrity of officers who did their level best to protect society and make accountable the terrorists who caused the pain and suffering. We owe these men and women a deep debt of gratitude.”

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