Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

DUP: top officer said sorry for criticisms of Robinson

A senior police chief has apologised to Peter Robinson after criticising his response to the recent north Belfast rioting, the DUP has claimed.

Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay had urged the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to show leadership after more than 80 police officers were injured during two nights of violence.

But Mr Robinson branded his attack “unhelpful and unacceptable” and said he would bring up the remarks at a meeting with Chief Constable Matt Baggott.

It is understood, however, that he did not have to raise the issue after Mr Finlay phoned DUP Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt to say sorry and for the apology to be passed on to the First Minister.

A PSNI spokeswoman last night said senior officers regularly speak to Policing Board members about a range of issues and declined to make any further comment.

Mr Robinson also side-stepped the public spat following his talks with Mr Baggott and Justice Minister David Ford at Stormont Castle yesterday and insisted he wanted to “move on”.

The DUP leader emphasised his admiration for the way police had coped with the difficult set of circumstances in Ardoyne over the last few nights — and that they would not be diverted from tackling difficult issues.

Mr Baggott also denied there was any “rift” between the leadership of the PSNI and Mr Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Mr Spratt, who also chairs the Assembly Executive review committee, said ACC Finlay apologised to him on Tuesday evening and asked him to pass on the apology to the First Minister.

“The Assistant Chief Constable has already apologised and in fact asked me to apologise on his behalf

to the First Minister, which I did. I spoke to the Chief Constable's office about the comments that he made, because he was totally out of order making those remarks. The First Minister has been working to resolve the issue.”

“He (Mr Finlay) asked me to ring him and I spoke to him and he unreservedly apologised and said he shouldn't have made the remarks.”

Mr Spratt also said Chief Constable Baggott spoke to ACC Finlay shortly after he made the remarks on the BBC’s Stephen Nolan show.

Ulster Unionist Policing Board member Basil McCrea said Mr Robinson should have engaged with ACC Finlay behind closed doors and warned the First Minister’s criticism could hit police morale.

But Mr Spratt countered: “Basil is using the board and situation for his political leadership bid. He should butt out of operational issues.”

Mr Finlay had said: “There are individual politicians working very hard on this, but are we seeing First Minister and the Deputy First Minister stepping out to condemn this?

“I haven't heard from them, I didn't hear from them before the (Twelfth of July)... we didn't see joined-up, strategic leadership from politicians who are entrusted and voted for by the community to deliver a cohesive society.”

Mr Baggott said he wanted to acknowledge “the very real commitment” from the First and Deputy First Minister “to working with the PSNI in dealing with the very real issues of the future”.

He said: “I know from the many evenings that I spent in discussions leading up to the devolution of policing and justice of their very real desire to work with police to make the future better.

“We have got more work to do, today has been part of that, but I am very confident that we will make more progress over the next few months and years as we build a more peaceful society together.”

Mr McGuinness said the disturbances were a “setback against the huge progress we have made in recent times” and it was quite clear there are groups who want to “plunge this society into conflict”.

He went on: “One thing is absolutely certain — they will not succeed. They will not succeed because we are determined to stand together and use all our resources to ensure that they do not achieve their worst aim.”

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