The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) received weapons from the U.S. in the early 1980s, despite a public ban on selling arms, recently released files show.
A former senior police official in Northern Ireland has stated that the Reagan administration turned a blind eye when guns were shipped despite a White House order banning gun sales to the discredited police force which was eventually disbanded and replaced by the PSNI.The ban on RUC arms was hailed at the time as a huge victory for the Irish American lobby but now it appears it was completely circumvented
The police force in Northern Ireland not only acquired weapons from the U.S, but they also obtained spying equipment, according to files released in Belfast under the 30-year-rule, the Belfast Newsletter reports.
Congress introduced the weapons ban after allegations of sectarianism in the RUC emerged.
A confidential 1981 memorandum to the Secretary of State shows that the ban was ignored so as to ensure that arms requested by the Chief Constable were obtained.
Based on the files alone, it is difficult to determine whether the U.S. Government was aware of the arms shipments.
One former senior RUC official told the Belfast Newsletter that he understood President Reagan was aware of the shipments but had “turned a blind eye to the issue” because of the country’s relationship with the UK.
The Newsletter reports that the RUC had placed three orders for a total of 9,000 Ruger revolvers, but the Chief Constable subsequently decided that 6,000 would be sufficient.
Half of the order was delivered in mid-1979, just before the U.S. government suspended its export licences for weapons for the RUC, “pending a review of policy”.
The review was still incomplete in March 1981, prompting much anger among unionists in Northern Ireland.
In parliament, one Tory MP described the situation as ironic, considering that the U.S. government was selling the Trident nuclear missile system to the UK but would not allow a UK police force to buy arms.
The recently released files now show that the force was continuing to receive the U.S. made weapons despite the ban.
The memo to the secretary of state said, “In fact, despite the ban the RUC have continued to receive small supplies of Rugers from the UK agents with whom the contract was placed, and now await delivery of only 735 of these weapons.
“However, we have carefully avoided publishing information about arms supply in any detail because we are conscious that if it became known that the RUC is receiving arms and ammunition from the US including Rugers [underlined], despite the ban, attempts might be made in Congress to stop these supplies which the Reagan Administration might not be willing or able to counter.”
Another confidential document from March 1981 reveals that during the financial year, the RUC had received from the US — all via UK suppliers – 2,235 Ruger revolvers, 130 Smith and Weston pistols, and more than 1.3 million rounds of various ammunition.