Northern Ireland's politicians are not moving quickly enough to develop a shared future to help ease tensions on the streets, a senior police officer has claimed.
Police have been left filling the gap because mature leadership is absent, PSNI Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw added.
Weeks of loyalist protests followed the December 3 decision of Belfast City Council to limit the flying of the Union flag from the City Hall and there has been serious violence from dissident republicans against police in the city after loyal order parades.
Mr Grimshaw said: "Police have become used to being the meat in sandwich when it comes to conflict, dispute and protest.
"But it is the view of the (Superintendents') Association that the time has long since passed for those with influence at political, civic and community level to change the appetites of people across this society once and for all," he told his association's annual conference in Belfast.