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My ‘working relationship’ with a hunger striker

Roger McCallum.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.

Roger McCallum.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.

A former police commander who has struck up a ‘friendship’ with a Republican hunger striker says he believes that talking is a great way of building relationships and learning lessons from the past.

Portstewart man Roger McCallum spent 28 years in the RUC and the PSNI before retiring in 2002.

He’s part of a steering committee on a new play commissioned by the Verbal Arts Centre.

‘Crows on the Wire’ by Jonathan Burgess, explores elements of the transition from the RUC to the PSNI, as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

It recounts strong and deeply personal stories - the characters of Jack and Ruth reflect a sense of frustration and disaffection felt amongst the ranks, whilst David is part of the institutional change from past to present.

Roger, who is also a member of the Coleraine Policing and Community Safety Partnership, was one of ten selected to sit on the committee to act as advisors to Londonderry playwright Burgess.

A serving PSNI officer, a former UDR soldier and members of a peace project in Londonderry also form part of the committee, alongside hunger striker Laurence McKeown, who was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of attempting to murder an RUC officer in the late seventies.

Speaking ahead of the performance in Coleraine’s Riverside Theatre, on Thursday, November 28, Roger told The Times that he believes the play has the potential be a ‘great resource for addressing the past’.

“I was appointed to the steering committee through my membership of the cross community organisation, ‘The Junction’, in Derry/Londonderry. I am also a proud to be a Trustee of the RUC George Cross Foundation.

“The play itself deals with change, something that we have all experienced here in Northern Ireland.

“My memory of the move to the PSNI is a mixed one -I remember there being a lot of hurt at the time.

“For many the switch from RUC GC to PSNI was seen as a betrayal. Sadly many of the RUC GC officers who had put their lives on the line as part of their duties, are no longer with us, or have suffered serious injuries, and the move to the PSNI for many serving police officers was seen as a ‘sell out’.

“The play looks at this change in a bid to open up debate. It is an extremely powerful and challenging piece of drama, which brought tears to my eyes the first time I saw the finished production.”

After each showing there will be a workshop where members of the audience will get the chance to talk to members of the steering committee.

Speaking about his working relationship with Laurence McKeown, Roger explained: “We have very different views as you would imagine, but we have talked and got to know one another, and both of us now have a better understanding of what defines us as human beings”.

“We’ve talked about the past, it wasn’t easy, but I believe that for this country to move forward we must open up debate and consider others perspectives.”

“I more than anyone would love to forget about the past, but we can’t get away from it, so I am a firm believer that talking will facilitate us to make sense of what happened in this beautiful, yet terrible, society.

“I really hope that this play will help us understand other perspectives and help us all deal with the past in a positive way.

“For too long the stories of the ‘ordinary’ yet extraordinary police officers have lain dormant. In an effort to collect more of the stories I am involved with the ‘Green and Blue’ Project which aims to collect personal narratives. If any retired or serving police officers would like to contribute, please contact me via the RUC GC Foundation Office at 02890700116.”

‘Crows on the Wire’ is a free event, however, you must ring and reserve your seats prior to the event.

 
 
 

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