Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Ford envisages Parades Commission replacement as he reveals £9m cost of policing unrest

Loyalist protesters march up to police lines on Belfast's Woodvale Road
Loyalist protesters march up to police lines on Belfast's Woodvale Road

JUSTICE Minister David Ford has predicted that the Parades Commission will be abolished and replaced by a new body after the Haass talks on a shared future.

The talks are scheduled to start in September and finish by the new year.

However, the Alliance leader (below) warned that a new body may not be up and running in time for next year's parading season and called for Parades Commission determinations to be obeyed in the meantime.

He predicted that any replacement body would be a "son of Parades Commission".

"Agreement is unlikely before December and it is hard to imagine legislation being through in time for April 2014 when the parading season starts. We need to keep things peaceful until then," he said in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph.

He pointed out that if decisions were contested with street protests, it would drain the policing budget. He revealed that the recent protests when the Orange Order was stopped marching 300 yards past Ardoyne had cost the policing budget between £8m and £9m. This will result in cuts in other services.

A senior PSNI source confirmed that the extra policing costs had been about £1m a day between July 12-21 this year.

"The latest figures we have given the Policing Board for those nine days came out at £8.1m in direct cash costs. That is likely to drift towards £9m when the final tally is available," the source said.

"It doesn't include 'opportunity' costs.

"When we deploy our police officers in front line public disorder they are not doing what communities want them to do," the source added.

"Resources are drawn away from areas like community policing, traffic and drugs."

More than £4m of the additional cost of policing was accounted for by payments to cover police officers who had been brought in from Britain. This included transport and accommodation as well as wages.

The remainder was in costs for PSNI officers, including overtime, and must come from the normal policing budget.

London picked up the tab for extra policing costs after the G8 summit because that was an event organised by central Government. The PSNI is also compensated for operations in defence of UK national security, but the cost of policing parades and protests has to be met locally.

"The Department of Justice budget is extremely stretched this year, particularly by the civil legal aid bill. Meeting that £8m or £9m shortfall increases our problems," Mr Ford warned.

"We are trimming costs right across the department and, with policing accounting for about 70% of our budget, it is bound to be affected."

Addressing the future of the Parades Commission, he said: "The Parades Commission will go but it will have to be replaced with son of Parades Commission, or even a son and daughter of the Parades Commission."

He believes we may end up with two new bodies. One would concentrate on conciliation – encouraging parading organisations and residents to reach agreement. The second would adjudicate if all else failed.

This division was suggested in a paper put forward by the DUP and Sinn Fein in 2010, but rejected by the Orange Order.

Mr Ford believes that Charles Landow, one of Dr Haass' team, is currently studying this and other documents.