Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Police stand firm to send a clear message to the rioters

PSNI arial footage of Woodvale riot on twelth of July
PSNI arial footage of Woodvale riot on twelth of July
A petrol bomb hits riot police after it was thrown by loyalist rioters in the Woodvale area of north Belfast
A petrol bomb hits riot police after it was thrown by loyalist rioters in the Woodvale area of north Belfast
Riot police deploy a water cannon after being attacked by loyalist protesters
Riot police deploy a water cannon after being attacked by loyalist protesters

The tough message from the highest ranks of the PSNI is loud and clear, being said and repeated for a purpose.

There is no need for any reading between the lines of the words spoken by Chief Constable Matt Baggott and senior colleague Will Kerr.

Over the coming days that high visibility policing operation in place over the Twelfth will be maintained – even built upon if necessary.

Alongside the PSNI there are still more than 1,000 'mutual aid' officers here from other UK forces, and they will stay until this particular policing job is done.

"We will keep sufficient here to maintain a strong presence on the streets right through to the weekend," Assistant Chief Constable Mr Kerr said yesterday.

This is the immediate policing plan, an operation that is being assessed and reassessed on a continuous basis, looking at numbers and specific tactics.

The holding line has been on the Woodvale Road at the point where Friday night's feeder parade was prevented from heading in the direction of Ardoyne.

This is where the police have been battered and pelted with bricks, bottles, petrol bombs and anything and everything else the rioters have been able to get their hands on.

It is also where officers have responded with plastic bullets and water cannon.

The significance of this front line is that it is only several hundred yards from Ardoyne, and holding it is important both in terms of community safety and making sure the ruling of the Parades Commission is enforced.

On Friday, with thousands on the streets for the Twelfth marches, this stretch of the road was where the police were put under a spotlight.

Could they hold back the angry crowd?

"We were never ever going to lose that line," a senior officer told this newspaper, "whatever it took."

And this is the big message: the police are going to stand their ground.

But the wider operation has more components than containment. Included in the tactics are dispersal and disruption, seen in the police pushing back crowds and making arrests.

To the rioters there is a message that there will be a price to pay; with courts every day if necessary.

And it's not just about brick and bottles and petrol bombs and those involved in violence.

On a wider stage, words are being listened to as well, inflammatory language, and the police will be assessing evidence and speaking to the Public Prosecution Service. Social media, too, will be studied.

This is not the stand-back policing that characterised the initial approach to the flag protests. The police are on the front foot, with numbers and equipment to hold many lines.

On Friday night a member of the Parades Commission observed the scenes on the Woodvale Road, and yesterday there was a statement from that body.

"If there is a genuine willingness to talk we can break the cycle of pain and blame that has become so commonplace each year at just a few locations," it said.

There is not a security answer to the parading problem.

Lines can be held, but, in the end, solutions will only be found in dialogue and agreements.

And this is where US diplomat Richard Haass is vital.

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