Speaker for 3rd March 2015

Photo: President John Graham greets Stewart Tosh, with Past President Gordon Ward (L)
Talk by Mr. Stewart Tosh giving ‘The History of Policing in Ireland - Myth or Legend?’
The Club President, John Graham, welcomed members to the meeting. He then introduced our speaker for the morning, Mr. Stewart Tosh, the topic of his talk being “The History of Policing in Ireland – Myth or Legend.”
Stewart began his talk by commenting that it was just a year ago he had been talking to the club about the Commonwealth Games and was enthusiastic about Northern Ireland's chances of medals. However, in today's talk, which reflected on his 34 years in the Police service, he would have to be careful what he said as there were several of his retired colleagues in the audience.

Stewart’s talk covered the period from the time of Peel and the establishment of the Irish Constabulary to the present day and the formation of the PSNI. He illustrated how in many ways the Royal Irish Constabulary was used as a template of many police forces around the world.

In 1786 the first Irish Police force was set-up under the 'Dublin Police Act'. In order for it to be seen as fair and representative of the people it was designed to protect, it had elected police Commissioners - two hundred years later the UK Government introduced this throughout the UK as a 'new idea'. The general success of the Dublin Police idea led in 1787 to the Belfast Police Act. However, the 1798 Rebellion caused the deployment of the army into Ireland as 'the Police could not cope with the situation' (that sounds familiar doesn't it? - Web-Ed).

Robert Peel served as Chief Secretary in Ireland from 1812 to 1818. Concerned with the maintenance of public safety he reviewed and reshaped the Dublin Police and established the first 'Peace Preservation Force' in 1814. Peel used this modal when he later became the Home Secretary to the English government, and established the London 'Constabulary' in 1822. The 'Royal Irish Constabulary' was formed (or rather 'renamed') in 1836.


Stewart then took the members through a history of Policing in Northern Ireland. This was often begun with a reading from eyewitness accounts or contemporary newspaper reports. For instance, The 'Illustrated London News' coverage of the 1872 riots in Belfast could easily have been describing something from the 1970s or 80s. The Waterloo Place, Londonderry, riots of 1913 could have easily been reporting on 'Bloody Sunday'.
Following 'Partition', the RUC was formed in 1922, and the uniform remained largely unchanged for the next 50 years, and it's badge was 'uniquely Irish'. Another 'unique' feature was that differently from other UK Police, the RUC were armed right from the start, as part of their remit was to protect people from 'I.R.A.' activities. It wasn't until 1968 that they were relieved of their 'protection' duties, which enabled the Army to be brought into N.I. Firearms were withdrawn from general uniform issue in 1969.


Stewart gave the members quite a series of public record statistics to ponder over. Although too many to report here, one that did cause comment from members was that: - Between 1969 and 2001, there were 302 officers killed on duty and over 8000 injured. In America, over the same period, the Police service of New York City lost over 800 men and suffered 18,000+ injured. Northern Ireland was on the front page of newspapers world wide as place where law and order was out of control, but there wasn't a mention of anything like that for New York.

In 2001, the RUC was reformed (renamed again?) as the ‘Police Service of Northern Ireland’.


Stewart was coming to the end of his comprehensive, well researched and carefully balanced talk, when he left the members with some quotes to further think over:-
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Edmund Burke
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
George Santayana

Stewart had to finish with, a striking and poignant poem, author unknown, about what it was like being an 'Officer' and his day to day duty.

"I am the Officer" 

I have been where you fear to be,
I have seen what you fear to see,
I have done what you fear to do -
All these things I have done for you…

There was just time for a short Q and A session, before Gordon Ward proposed the vote of thanks, for Stewart's second fantastic and inspiring talk, which is just what he had achieved last year and enabled the club members to go on to host the Coleraine All Ireland Probus Rally in 2014. The President passed on the thanks and the members showed their appreciation.

Mike Turner - Club Admin

For more Police Poems, take a look at:

And for a full version of the poem ‘I am the Officer’ mentioned above, ‘click’ this link

Some more information about Robert Peel:


Peel entered politics in 1809 at the age of 21, as MP for the Irish rotten borough of Cashel, Tipperary. With a scant 24 electors on the rolls, he was elected unopposed. His sponsor for the election (besides his father) was the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, with whom Peel's political career would be entwined for the next 25 years. Peel made his maiden speech at the start of the 1810 session, when he was chosen by Prime Minister Spencer Perceval to second the reply to the king's speech. His speech was a sensation, famously described by the Speaker, Charles Abbot, as "the best first speech since that of William Pitt."
As chief secretary in Dublin in 1814, he proposed the setting up of a specialist police force, later called "peelers". In 1836 the Royal Irish Constabulary was founded under Peel.

Or 'click' here for far more detail.