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Ex-RUC chief Ronnie Flanagan: Kevin Sheehy was a free spirit... a pioneer who chose the road less travelled

By Sir Ronnie Flanagan

Published 24/10/2016

Former RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan
Former RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan

It is with the greatest personal sadness that I learn of the passing of Kevin Sheehy - a very dear friend and colleague over so many years.

I remember Kevin joining the RUC in the very early '70s.

Like me, he was from working-class north Belfast but Kevin would have faced great opposition to his choice of career in the staunchly Catholic and probably significantly anti-RUC community in which he grew up.

But Kevin was never one for the orthodox choice or predictable course of action. Kevin was a true free-thinker.

He would invariably choose the road less travelled.

Kevin was one of the first two graduates ever to join the RUC, having studied at Trinity.

I remember very well, in many personal conversations with him, his absolute passion to try, through policing, to make Northern Ireland a better place for all its people - whatever their background or belief.

Kevin and I and a small number of others were 'pioneers' for the late Sir John Hermon in a newly developed 'Higher National Certificate in Police Studies' which Sir John created in partnership with the then Ulster Polytechnic.

While such police-academic partnerships are common today, it was a truly trailblazing collaboration by Sir John in those days, the early '70s. Kevin was outstanding - intellectually extremely able but endowed with a large measure of practical common sense - albeit tinged with his own unique style.

Indeed, style and fashion were always uniquely exhibited by Kevin.

When he became a detective at an incredibly early stage in his career, he took full advantage of the 'freedom' from having to wear uniform and from having to keep his hair in what was unfashionably short style for the period.

He soon developed a mass of curly locks, a Mexican moustache and was prone to wearing incredibly long, colourful 'Doctor Who'-type scarves.

Kevin's individuality however belied a driving commitment to his work.

He was an outstanding detective who went on to head the Drugs Squad.

He was also later to become an outstanding Press Officer, demonstrating his great versatility and diversity of skills.

Only a few of us close to Kevin knew of the medical problems he constantly experienced through suffering from a blood disorder.

Kevin typically made light of it and simply got on with his work, his leisure and his life.

He was passionate about animal rights - a vegetarian, almost vegan, he was often seen protesting, for example, against hare coursing.

I remember being at breakfast with him on a course in England when he challenged me for having what he described as "the cruellest meal imaginable" - bacon, sausage and eggs.

Kevin was not joking. He really felt it and also felt he should say it!

I was extremely fond of Kevin Sheehy.

I was a great admirer of his ability and of his determination to help others through being the best public servant he could be.

I was also a great admirer of his unique free spirit.

I count myself lucky to have known him so well.

My thoughts today and going forward are with his family and all who loved him.

He will be sadly missed and I cannot help but think, "When will we see your likes again?"

Belfast Telegraph

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