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Inspector Roy Robinson beat cancer three times and is admired by those he serves... especially the family of the tragic Monaghan man whose body he was determined to find

As he leaves Fermanagh for a new post, the PSNI officer tells Rodney Edwards about his love for the county's people, his battle with serious illness, and unique relationship with loved ones of drowning victim that has helped build cross-border relations.

Inspector Roy Robinson is a policeman who wears his heart on his sleeve. From weeping with grieving parents to laughing and joking with everyone from children to the elderly. From visiting the sick in hospital to exchanging Christmas wishes with protesters, Mr Robinson has done more than defend the law in his home county of Fermanagh.

His contribution to community life has been invaluable and on Monday the 55-year-old will take up the role of Chief Inspector of Mid-Ulster, bringing a fruitful and rewarding period in Fermanagh to an end.

"It has been a real joy policing the peace. Life is just a blink. We have so much in common and we come together to reach out the hand of friendship. That is what I will miss most about the people," he said.

And many will miss him. Since news of his promotion became public knowledge, Mr Robinson has been inundated with messages from the very many people he has made an impact on, including Chief Constable George Hamilton, who said Fermanagh's loss "would be South Tyrone's gain".

First Minister Arlene Foster told the Belfast Telegraph that she will miss Mr Robinson "deeply".

"He has been an outstanding police officer in Fermanagh and is the epitome of community policing," she said.

"There is a tendency among elected representatives that when there is a problem the first person you ring is Roy. I thank him for his contribution to local life. We will miss him as our Inspector and miss his huge personality."

Mr Robinson's positive, happy outlook stems from his past, having battled cancer three times - first when he was told he had testicular cancer at just 25, followed by lung cancer at 26, and then, two years later at 28, a recurrence of the tumours.

"I accepted that I was ready to die. It was a tremendous shock as a 25-year-old to be told you have cancer. That was the life-changing period of my life. Sometimes through the tribulations of life you find it difficult to understand why something has happened, but you get through it," he said.

"I ended up in Belvoir Park Hospital in a bed beside a man from the Falls Road and a man from Crossmaglen.

"The nurses were angels to me. If they were paid double it wouldn't have been enough to compensate them for their kindness and love.

"It was the height of the Troubles and there were people outside the hospital window fighting and killing each other. At that very moment it didn't matter what religion you were, we were all in the same boat trying to fight for a few more years, or days. Sickness is a good teacher."

A devoted Christian, Mr Robinson said he "never felt as close with the Lord" than when he was going through his cancer treatment. After receiving surgery at the former Erne Hospital in Enniskillen, a woman who would end up becoming his wife, visited him in hospital. Taken with the university student, a loving relationship was formed and the pair soon married.

"When I couldn't go out and find a woman - one came to me!" he laughed.

But a year later Mr Robinson was diagnosed with lung cancer. It proved another devastating blow, but he was determined to get through it, again thanks to his faith. "I thought to myself: 'If God got me through this before he can get me through it again'.

"My wife and I married in 1988 and six weeks after we were married I received news that the tumours had returned and I needed further treatment. I had cancer for a third time. My wife cried and cried.

"After a long period of treatment I managed to beat it again, and thank the Lord for that," he said. Mr Robinson grew up from humble beginnings in Churchill, a small village outside Enniskillen. His first home had neither electricity nor running water. From early days, though, he had a deep-seated yearning to make a difference in life and wanted more than anything to become a police officer. His perseverance paid off and eventually he signed up to the RUC Reserve.

Throughout his illness he did ponder the prospect of not being able to succeed in policing, and more importantly than that he was concerned that he wouldn't achieve his greatest goal - starting a family.

"I wanted to join the regular police force, I wanted to have a wee boy. After five years we got the news that my wife was pregnant. We had our first boy in 1993; in 1996 our second one came. It was amazing that we were still able to have children. For us, money wouldn't replace the joy of having children, particularly as I never thought I would have any after my treatment. Being a father is very precious to me," he said.

Mr Robinson joined the police force full-time and during the Troubles came close to losing his life when he was involved in a terrorist incident in Belleek, close to the border with Co Donegal.

He quickly became an integral part of community life, building up a strong bond with local people and all because, as he puts it: "I love everyone dearly."

In 2011 Mr. Robinson received an MBE for his notable career in serving the public. He added: "I meet people every day. I have covered Twelfth parades, St Patrick's Day parades, the Queen's visit in 2012. I enjoy covering events like this and I think Fermanagh sets the tone when it comes to events and parading.

"When the Queen visited, I was the one who saluted her going into both St Macartin's Cathedral and St Michael's Church. At the G8 summit in 2013 it was my job to look after the protesters. The two protesters still text me every Christmas to wish me well, and I wish them well too."

Of course, the caring, thoughtful sometimes emotional side of Inspector Robinson is never far from sight. "I do get very moved by people who have lost loved ones in tragedies," he readily admitted. "I have attended a large number of funerals. I want to sympathise with the families, weep with them and be there for them in times of tragedy."

Throughout his career, he says, his professional and personal lives have collided.

"It is hard to park that personal side of you, but we are all touched by what happens. I know so many people in Fermanagh, that's where it is difficult to separate the two, and sometimes they merge. I have wept at funerals and events. I have shed tears at my desk many times. You are only human, you have that compassion. I wear my heart on my sleeve."

When Monaghan man Kieran McAree went missing in 2014 one of the biggest search operations Enniskillen had ever seen was launched. His body was found 64 days later. It was a distressing period for many people, including Inspector Robinson.

"Words fail me. All those who were trying to recover the body of Kieran had built up such a bond. When we did find him I brought the family to my office and we had a prayer. The compassion and love that was built between the people of Monaghan and Enniskillen... I have never experienced anything like it."

Mr Robinson and six of his colleagues attended the young man's funeral in Monaghan, where they received a moving standing ovation, and as his coffin was carried to the nearby cemetery the officers joined locals from Emyvale to form a guard of honour in one last show of support.

"I'll never forget that for as long as I live. The humanity to the fellow man, the love between Catholics and Protestants," he recalled, reiterating the importance of his faith.

Even today Inspector Robinson keeps a card with Kieran's photograph in his wallet, given to him by the young man's family, and he regularly looks at it.

Yesterday, as he prepared to walk out of his office for the final time, Kieran's family made the journey from Monaghan to wish him well. He burst into tears when he saw them waiting for him.

"It was very emotional," he said. "The entire day has been emotional. I am overjoyed by the goodness of people and I will miss all the friends I have made in Fermanagh, but this is not the end."

  • Rodney Edwards is a journalist with The Impartial Reporter newspaper in Co Fermanagh

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