News Release

Dame Nuala Warns Of Northern Ireland's 'Fragile Peace'

3rd July 2008

Dame Nuala O'Loan

Former Police Ombudsman Dame Nuala O'Loan has warned of the fragility of peace in Northern Ireland. Her warning came as she addressed graduates after receiving an honorary degree from the University of Ulster at Belfast's Waterfront Hall.

"Northern Ireland is at yet another critical juncture: we have peace, but it is still fragile, because there are those who still hold weapons, and seek to undermine what has been achieved.

"There has been significant investment, and despite the global echoes of recession, our economy is stronger than it has been. Our people are working together, and you, whom we might have called the children of the Troubles, can scarcely remember how it was here in the past. And that is good," she told the graduates gathered in the Waterfront Hall.

"My message to you today is that the business of creating and maintaining peace and stability is the business of each citizen, as well as the business of politicians and peace negotiators. The average peace deal lasts five years. The average conflict resumes after 15 years. It is important not to become complacent about peace," she said.

"Where people have jobs, homes and the right to engage in democratic politics, they are stakeholders in their own futures. It is vital therefore that every effort is made to  grow our economy, and to address the causes and impacts of marginalisation and deprivation in our society."

"We must find and give proper burial to the Disappeared. We must as a society find a way to persuade those who hold weapons unlawfully to hand them in. We must ensure that those who have been exiled from our land are able to come back.

"We must find a way to heal the wounds of the past, to enable the telling of what has happened, to find truth where truth can be established, and in all this, so to reconcile our people so that we do not become another statistic on the world map of conflict."

Dame Nuala  was speaking at the Waterfront Hall, where she was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Ulster at its summer graduations.

She received the degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) in recognition of her work as Police Ombudsman and for her contribution to the social development of Northern Ireland. 

She was appointed to the post of Police Ombudsman in 1999 and served in that role until 2007.

Dame Nuala attracted both praise and criticism for her robust investigations into allegations of abuse by the former RUC and current PSNI during her term in office – most notably in her two headline-making probes – one an investigation into the police handling of the Omagh bomb atrocity in which 29 people died, and the other into claims of collusion between the RUC and its UVF informers.

Her report criticising the RUC’s handling of Omagh brought a storm of protest from Unionist politicians and the then Chief Constable of the RUC Sir Ronnie Flanagan.

The Police Ombudsman’s ‘Operation Ballast’ investigation into allegations of collusion between elements in the RUC and a UVF gang in North Belfast also caused controversy after it was revealed that informants working for Special Branch were suspected of carrying out a number of killings, including the one which sparked the investigation, that of Raymond McCord Jnr.

In spite of the controversies, an independent survey in December 2006 found that Protestants and Catholics were equally supportive of the Police Ombudsman.

Before her Police Ombudsman role, Dame Nuala taught at the Ulster Polytechnic and the subsequent University of Ulster from 1974 to 1992. She then held the Jean Monnet Chair in European Law at the University from 1992 to 1999.

In 1977 she survived an IRA bombing at the institution. She was pregnant at the time and lost the baby. A qualified solicitor, she is married to SDLP MLA Declan O’Loan. She is also a voluntary marriage counsellor.     


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