Support for Northern Ireland’s paramilitaries will persist until politicians tackle endemic poverty and youth unemployment, the country’s most senior policeman has warned, ahead of a huge security operation to protect next month’s meeting of G8 world leaders.
Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable, Matt Baggott, has pleaded for greater efforts in countering the economic and social roots of republican and loyalist violence and disorder.
The head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who is in charge of security at June’s G8 summit in Fermanagh, urges politicians to focus on pockets of deep-seated deprivation, and warns of the continued threat to life from dissident splinter groups.
Mr Baggott's force continues to face problems from both the republican and loyalist sides, with the greatest risk to life coming from dissident republican splinter groups who continue to try to kill his officers. In an interview with The Independent he warned they pose a severe threat.
But loyalists have also been active, with protests over flag-flying over the last six months leading to disturbances in which well over a hundred police officers were injured. More than 160 loyalists have since been charged.
“Where I think politicians have a greater role to play is in addressing deep-seated social need as opposed to just dealing with the rhetoric of shared future,” he said. “We need a lot more focused work in those difficult disadvantaged neighbourhoods where paramilitarism has its roots, to try to improve the life particularly of young people, and deal with the angst felt by working-class Protestantism and republicanism. That has yet to happen.”
Mr Baggott will be in overall charge of security at the G8 summit which is to be held in Northern Ireland next month. He will head up both his own force and 3,600 officers brought in from Britain as reinforcements in what he described as a "logistically huge" operation."
Preparations for the event will include a fleet of military helicopters for VIP visitors and the provision of hundreds of temporary cells to hold demonstrators in the event of disturbances.
There are fears that the loyalists’ controversial summer marching season will again result in riots.