The Civil Rights Movement of 1968/69 led to serious civil unrest with which the RUC was unprepared to deal due to its small size, limited resources and political control and the army was called in to restore order. A police enquiry followed which radically reformed the RUC to bring it more into line with other UK police forces. The most important changes were the removal of political control over the police by the setting up of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, the transfer of all military-type duties to the army and the disbandment of the USC and its replacement by a newly recruited RUC Reserve. Another important change was the disarming of the RUC, a situation that had to be reversed after a year due to the escalating terrorist threat.
The escalation of the terrorist campaign in the 1970’s and 80’s saw the RUC develop in both size (to a maximum strength of 13,500) and expertise to meet the challenge. A policy of ‘police primacy’ was adopted from the mid-1970’s, under which the responsibility for security lay in the first instance with the police, with army support available only when necessary.
In addition to countering the terrorist threat the RUC developed specialist units concerned with areas such as serious crime, racketeering, drugs, traffic offences and domestic abuse.
The difficulty and danger of the RUC’s task in the face of years of terrorist violence was recognised by the award of the George Cross to the force in April 2000. A large number of officers also received individual awards for gallantry.