Thursday 22 January 2009

Norman Hamill, from RUC Inspector to United Irelander

There is little more discomfiting for either side in a bitter struggle than the defection of one of 'their own' to the other side. Where such defection is provoked by personal dislikes, or financial gain, the defector can be discounted. But where the defector is motivated simply by conviction, his very existence becomes destabilising for his 'tribe'.

In Northern Ireland there are very few real defectors from 'their' tribal position. The best known are usually the agents that the British have managed to recruit within the IRA – people like Scappaticci and Callaghan. But there are other defectors whose position is based upon principle, or a long-term reassessment of their 'received' position. People who have been brought up within one of Northern Ireland's two tribes, who have lived and worked within the assumptions of that up-bringing, but who have, nevertheless, abandoned the position of their tribe and 'come over' to the other side. Many people who do so, do it very quietly – they vote in private for a party that represents the 'other' position, they joined the RUC, or they took Irish lessons. Few make the move to the 'other side' very publicly.

One who did make a radical and visible personal shift from the assumptions both of his up-bringing and his career, is Norman Hamill, a columnist for the Derry Journal and other related newspapers in the Johnston Press group. A senior police officer in Derry, who ran the police press operation in the North West for many years and who retired from the police in 2001 after 30 years' service, had this to say in a recent column:

My family background is Protestant and broadly unionist but I believe the ultimate solution to some of our political problems lies in the creation of a fully sovereign united Ireland.

Such a view isn't exactly wildly popular amongst some Protestants and I'm always vulnerable to a charge of trying to ingratiate myself with "the other side". In another sense, it's a liberating place to be. Why inch forward painfully for years towards the only real solution when the big step we need to take is already perfectly obvious?

For someone whose background ought to place him squarely in the unionist camp, and whose life experiences as a policeman during the whole of the troubles/war should have ensured that he stands solidly against all of the objectives of the men and women he fought, these are quite extraordinary words.

We can only hope that when a retired RUC Inspector believes that the ultimate solution is "a fully sovereign united Ireland" there must be thousands more from the same background who quietly agree.

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