Republicans will never succeed in besmirching the brave RUC men and women it was my privilege to serve alongside: MLA
Ulster Unionist MLA Alan Chambers, who spent 15 years as a part-time police reservist, deplores the Sinn Fein-led attempts to rewrite history of the force
In 1972, I decided that I had a civic duty to do something positive to help deal with the scourge and threat of terrorism in all its forms in Northern Ireland. Along with many others, I joined the part-time RUC Reserve and took an oath to protect life and property without fear or favour.
It was my privilege to serve in this fine organisation until the mid-1980s. Many of my part-time colleagues eventually left good civilian jobs to join the full-time RUC and several of them went on to achieve high rank in their new calling.
The 1970s were a difficult time for all the citizens of Northern Ireland, but more so for those charged with keeping law and order in a very troubled, divided and raw society.
As a part-time reservist, I had to be very aware of varying my routine and avoiding places and venues where I might have been vulnerable, because of my direct connection with the security forces.
Even in the relative safety of living in north Down, my personal protection weapon was never far from my side. However, I had the choice of when I pulled on my uniform to go out on patrol in public.
Full-time colleagues didn't have that luxury of picking when to pull the uniform on. They policed many areas that were openly hostile to their presence. They had the constant possibility of being caught in a sniper's crosshairs, shot in the back while on foot patrol at close range by a coward skulking up behind them, or blown to pieces while enjoying a snack in a mobile police station canteen. They truly never knew the moment when evil would strike with deadly effect.
The demands of the situation meant that shift finishing times could never be depended on. Children were often disappointed when mum or dad had to stay late in work, with a visit to the cinema cancelled, or an appointment with a school to discuss their family's education having to be missed. When they did get home to the comfort of their living room, the family conversations might have been very muted, or even hostile, given the stress, strain and sights of the last turn of duty.
Moving home was a regular occurrence, either because of a new posting or a terrorist threat. Changing schools was a frequent challenge faced by the children of police officers, with established friendships broken and new ones to be made.
Strong marriages survived, but many break-ups could be blamed entirely on the demands of the job. Add that to the 9,000 officers injured, many with life-changing consequences.
Police officers were expected to make many sacrifices, but over 300 made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf, murdered simply because of the job they did. Being treated in a hospital bed, attending worship in a church or driving your children to school - nowhere was sacred to those who wanted to kill you.
Those RUC men and women who were savagely cut down, not by freedom fighters, but by cowardly terrorists, must never be forgotten, nor their sacrifice diminished to satisfy contrived political pressure.
One detective sergeant I knew, who served in north Belfast, told me once that, along with a detective constable, he had 10 open murder files on his desk to investigate. To revisit the scene of a murder or to re-interview an eyewitness, in many areas he would have to organise an operation by the military to give him the protection to carry out this task. Conducting a proper and thorough investigation was a major challenge.
Too many people forget the circumstances that the police were operating under during those dark days, when they tried to investigate heinous crime while regularly having to divert their energies to stand between rival riotous mobs intent on creating the ingredients for a civil war.
In my 15 years' service, I never encountered a fellow officer who was trying to do anything other than uphold law and order while protecting life and property, to the absolute best of their ability.
This was conducted without any desire to know the political, or religious, leanings of those they sought to serve. Yes, there were bad apples (no organisation has a monopoly on probity), but those who fell below the standards expected within the RUC were robustly and correctly dealt with by internal discipline and, in many cases, legal action through the courts.
Over recent years, I have watched and listened as Sinn Fein has tried to rewrite the history and narrative of the Troubles - especially in relation to the RUC. It has not been without success. Indeed, this success was brought home to me recently, when I bumped into an old friend and former colleague, now retired.
He joined the police in the early 1970s. He came from a nationalist background and I would speculate that he still considers himself a nationalist. He served for more than 30 years and was decorated for his service.
With great sadness, he told me that he was now coy and almost ashamed to tell anyone what his job had been. Not because of anything he did or saw during a varied career in the RUC, but because of the way the name of the RUC and the reputation of those who served has been demonised and sullied by a concerted and vicious hate campaign.
This is an ongoing campaign, conducted by the political representatives of an organisation that killed and maimed people simply because of their religion, or planted bombs with total disregard to who would be caught up in the blast.
Barry McElduff offered us a telling glimpse behind the mask recently. Little wonder Sinn Fein seeks to turn the spotlight onto others and away from the murderous deeds of the IRA.
While Sinn Fein has orchestrated this campaign against the RUC, others who should know better have become almost allies in this campaign to demonise the RUC.
The buzzword of the moment is 'collusion'. Many have different interpretations of what it means. To me, it means a totally hands-on involvement in a conspiracy to commit crime.
The Office of the Police Ombudsman has reviewed the police investigation into the heinous and despicable murder of innocent people enjoying a quiet drink while watching a football match in a little country pub at Loughinisland. Dr Michael Maguire concluded in his subsequent report that there was collusion between the perpetrators and members of the RUC.
Given that he has not been able to produce evidence that would back up a criminal case against any individual police officer, I can only conclude that the report produced by his office has no substance in alleging collusion. He has not been able to recommend a prosecution against any police officer, yet he appears happy for his report to impeach the reputation of every officer involved in the case, directly or indirectly.
His determination to fight, by every legal means at his disposal, any attempt of the courts to point out the obvious, and seriously prejudicial, damage to the reputation of former police officers in the total absence of any evidence to even warrant a criminal case against them, never mind secure a conviction, has led my party to the belief he should resign.
To all my former colleagues in the RUC, I would say: proudly hold your head high; you have nothing to be ashamed of. Many people in Northern Ireland are alive today, no thanks to the IRA, but because of the professional and courageous way you went about providing protection to all sections of the community.
Northern Ireland owes you a massive debt and Sinn Fein or others will not be allowed, nor will they succeed, in trying to rewrite the positive part you played in getting Northern Ireland to where it is today.
This was achieved at huge personal cost and sacrifice by every single person who wore the uniform and gave unblemished service to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, George Cross.
Alan Chambers is Ulster Unionist MLA for North Down