Flanagan, James Bernard (‘Jamie’) (1914–99), policeman, was born 15 January 1914 at 68 Bridge St., Derry city, son of James Flanagan, RIC sergeant, and Susan Flanagan (née McFeely). Educated locally, he joined the RUC as a constable in 1933. Numbered among about 12 per cent rank and file catholics in a predominately protestant force and society, he cultivated goodwill with all communities. He was a district inspector by 1942, at which rank about 20 per cent of officers were catholic. During the second world war he was attached to the war office and to the foreign and colonial offices. After the war (1945) he accompanied the recently retired RUC inspector general, Lt-col. Sir Charles Wickham (qv), who commanded a British mission to advise the Greek government on a new police force. In 1952 Flanagan received an MBE and resumed home duties, initially in Derry and west Belfast. Promoted to county inspector, he was appointed to a headquarters post in Belfast, gaining an OBE in 1968 and the rank of deputy chief constable in November 1970. This new appointment would, it was hoped, assuage catholic reservations about the new chief constable, Graham Shillington (qv), whose unionist background was a potential source of increased nationalist opposition to the police since the Northern Ireland troubles had erupted in 1969.
Flanagan's high social profile within the force and his cross-community sensitivity made him acceptable, even popular, on both sides of the divide. His becoming deputy chief, preceded only seven months earlier by disbandment of the ‘B’ Specials (Ulster Special Constabulary) in the Hunt reforms, diluted nationalist suspicion of the police but indicated no radical plans to change the regular force. Indeed, Flanagan strongly supported the RUC as a service with a future, at a time when demoralised members felt threatened both by official extinction and republican attacks backed by rioting.
Flanagan fought hard to save morale when in 1971 eleven officers were killed on the streets. Mounting IRA and loyalist violence placed him at the centre of a conflagration fanned by internment (1971–5), and ‘Bloody Sunday’ (30 January 1972). The worst had arguably abated by November 1973 when Flanagan, now CBE, replaced Shillington as the first catholic chief constable of the RUC. Much was made of his appointment, perceived as a ‘signal’ to the catholic community that the RUC was open to constructive change and greater religious balance. He assured nationalists that improvements in police–community relations would follow and strove to carry these through by example. His novelty value was, however, short-lived: the ill-fated Sunningdale power-sharing executive took office in January 1974, and met with outright resistance from unionists and loyalists. Simultaneously, Flanagan and Commissioner Patrick Malone (d. 2001) of the Garda Síochána set up the first official cross-border exchange of meetings between Irish police chiefs since partition. While courting Dublin, his pride in the RUC was in no doubt as he doggedly resisted all suggestions that the force be reformed by stealth. He showed his steel in confronting the secretary of state, Merlyn Rees (qv), on this issue. Ultimately he was successful and the RUC was strengthened and enlarged, its various divisions restructured into two ‘regions’, north and south, April 1974.
Flanagan held firm against the Ulster Workers’ Council strike of May 1974 that disabled Northern Ireland's economy and destroyed the power-sharing executive. He responded to nationalist charges of RUC collaboration in the strike by demonstrating that no police officers had joined it, whatever their personal sympathies. During the IRA's Christmas/new year truce (December 1974–January 1975) and its semi-ceasefire from February 1975, Flanagan increased security measures rather than relaxed them, unconvinced that the peace would last or that ‘incident centres’ sanctioned by the government to monitor the ceasefire would do anything other than reinforce IRA resistance. He also spent that year confronting increased loyalist violence and counterattacks by non-IRA republican paramilitaries, ahead of full IRA reengagement in September. He clearly trusted the IRA less than did the Rees administration, which had attempted to negotiate its way around the ceasefire demands.
Flanagan came close to assassination on at least two occasions. Once, as he attended Sunday mass (which he did regularly, but at different churches for reasons of security), his driver spotted a suspect in a nearby house, which was raided and a schedule of Flanagan's churchgoing seized. More extraordinarily, when he and his wife (among more than eighty passengers and crew) took a British Airways flight to London in July 1974 a bomb warning caused the aircraft to land at Manchester, where a home-made device was found under a seat, having failed to explode owing to paint on the drawing-pin detonator. Knighted in June 1975 in the queen's birthday honours, Jamie Flanagan retired in May 1976, unreconciled with Rees on policy towards the IRA or police independence. He was succeeded by his deputy, Kenneth Newman.
Flanagan married Florence Acheson (1938); they had two sons and a daughter. In the late 1970s he and his wife settled in Suffolk, England, where he was involved in the Police Athletic Association and charitable work for the Sue Ryder Foundation. He died there 4 April 1999, aged 85.