Royal Irish Constabulary

From Academic Kids

The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), was one of Ireland's two police forces in the early twentieth century, alongside the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Londonderry and Belfast had had their own forces, but problems, especially their involvement in sectarian violence, saw them both disbanded by 1870, and the RIC assumed their duties. It was disbanded in 1922 and replaced by two new police forces; the Garda Síochána in the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland) and the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland. The force was predominantly Roman Catholic, although there were many fewer Catholics in the higher ranks.

History of policing in Ireland

The first organised police force in Northern Ireland came about through the Peace Preservation Act of 1814 but the Irish Constabulary Act of 1822 is marked as the true beginning of the Irish Constabulary. The act established a force in each barony with chief constables and inspectors general under the control of the civil administration at Dublin Castle, by 1841 this force numbered over 8,600 men. The force had been rationalised and reorganised in a 1836 act and the first constabulary code of regulations was published in 1837. The discipline was tough and the pay poor.

The police demonstrated their efficiency against the Fenian Brotherhood with the putting down of the William Smith O'Brien uprising. There then followed a spell of quiet conspiracy which rose into direct action in with the Fenian Rising of 1867, marked by attacks on the more isolated police stations. The loyalty of the constabulary during the rising was rewarded by Queen Victoria granting the force the prefix 'royal' and the right to use the insignia of the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick. The Royal Irish Constabulary had presided over a marked decline in crime in the country since the organizations inception, crimes such as unlawful armed assembly being succeeded by public drunkenness and minor property crimes (excluding the Land War of 1879-82). Belfast, which was outside the control of the RIC, was marked with sectarian tensions as its population grew five-fold in fifty years, there were serious riots in 1857, 1864, 1872 and 1886. As a result the Belfast Town Police were disbanded and control of the city passed to the RIC.

Due to their ubiquity from the 1850s the RIC were tasked with a range of civil and local government duties together with their existing ones, closely tying the constables to their local communities. By 1901 there were around 1,600 barracks and some 11,000 constables. Through their enforcement of tens of thousands of evictions in rural Ireland and their harassment of Land league leaders, the RIC attracted widespread opprobrium among the Irish population, which had more or less eased by the First World War.

The comparative ease of the RIC's existence was troubled by the rise of the Home Rule campaign through the late 19th and early 20th century. The potential success of the third Home Rule Bill in 1912 introduced great tensions: opponents of the Bill organised the Ulster Volunteer Force in January 1913 while supporters formed the Irish National Volunteers. These two groups had over 250,000 members, organized as effective private armies, although most effort was directed against the nationalists, leaving the UVF a free hand. Sinn Féin was founded in 1905. Politics became more divisive and there was a rise in political violence, peaking in 1921.

The Sinn Féin victory in the General Election of 1918 and their creation of an independent parliament (Dáil Éireann) marked the beginning of guerilla war. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) under Michael Collins carried out systematic attacks on Crown forces, and the RIC took the heaviest of the assaults. Simultaneous a boycott of the police was enforced by the IRA, with alternate courts and police set up. To reinforce the police the British government raised extra forces and sent them to Ireland in 1920, notably the hated "Black and Tans" and the Auxiliary Division of the Constabulary. In December 1920 the Government of Ireland Act partitioned the country and in July 1921 a truce was agreed, 418 RIC personnel had been killed in two years. The Anglo-Irish Treaty ratified the division and was the cause of the Irish Civil War. In January 1922 it was agreed to disband the RIC in the Free State, creating the Garda Síochána and renaming the RIC the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the northeast.

Many RIC men went north to join the new RUC. This resulted in a force that was 40% Catholic. However, this percentage fell to 8% as these men retired and were not replaced by northern Catholics, who largely rejected the RUC's strongly unionist ethos. Many of these men feared to return to their homes in the new Free State, having been associated with the brutality of the conflict that created it. Some RIC men joined the Garda Síochána, having assisted the IRA in different ways. Many retired and the Free State agreed to pay their pensions. Many, however, were faced with threatened or actual violent reprisals and fled across the Irish Sea to Britain, where a large number, along with former Black and Tans and Auxies, joined the Palestine Gendarmerie, which was recruiting in Britain at the same time, and later the Palestine Police.


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