"This Dark Night": government hindrance of police reform in Northern Ireland, 1969-1972

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University of New Brunswick


The conflict in Northern Ireland has been the subject of much debate and commentary. Central to these discussions have been the role of the Northern Irish police and government. For decades, the Royal Ulster Constabulary was utilised as a Unionist political tool rather than the enforcers of law and order. A significant roadblock to the success of police reform between 1968 and 1972 was the lack of progress in the political arena. At the time it was argued paramilitary violence needed to stop before government reform could effectively occur. However, the evidence seems to suggest the opposite. The continued rejection of political change stunted police reforms, prolonged repression, increased support for paramilitary activity, and led finally to the complete rejection of the Northern Irish government by nationalists and the intervention of the government at Westminster. Decades later, both the state and the police in Northern Ireland were reformed: the government to make it more acceptable and the police to separate them from the interference of the state.