Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Police chief hopes for parade peace

Chief Constable Matt Baggott is optimistic for peace on the streets of Northern Ireland this summer

Northern Ireland's top police officer has said he was optimistic there would be peace on the streets this summer.

With the first of the contentious parades due to take place on Friday, PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) chief constable Matt Baggott said he was hopeful this year's marching season would not be marred by violence.

"On the back of what has been achieved over the last few days with the renewed impetus to the shared future; with a far greater degree of political consensus and sensible voices being heard there is absolutely no reason why this summer's parading season shouldn't be an exemplar in the way that the G8 was. I think that is entirely possible," he said

Last year shots were fired and an explosive device was thrown at police lines during disturbances at the Ardoyne interface in north Belfast on July 12. Officers were pelted by petrol bombs, bricks and bottles and cars were hijacked and burnt out by hostile crowds of rioters.

Disorder also flared when a Royal Black Preceptory parade passed a flashpoint at St Patrick's Catholic Church close to Belfast city centre in August. And, earlier this year more than 150 police officers were injured during months of sporadic violence linked to the lowering of the Union flag over Belfast City Hall.

The chief constable has called on the community and political leaders from both sides of the sectarian divide to use their influence positively, adding: "There is an onus on people to make sure it is (peaceful). All the signs are of a new responsibility to respecting each other's rights and differences. I shall remain optimistic at this point. We are doing everything we can to facilitate a very peaceful tour and July. Most of the 3,000 parades do take off peacefully indeed. So let's remain optimistic."

Last month the PSNI hosted talks in Cardiff aimed at improving relations between working class loyalist and republican communities and the police. Sensitive issues such as parading and flags were not on the agenda but those involved agreed to keep lines of communication open, especially during periods of tension, and pledged support for the police.

Mr Baggott said the speech by US president Barack Obama at Belfast's Waterfront Hall on Monday had created a renewed impetus for peace. "We had the President of the United States come here and speak about the future of young people, giving accolades to those who had built the peace. I felt very inspired by what he said and I am sure many people did as well. That in itself has been of enormous benefit," he said.

Meanwhile, the chief constable said dissident republicans, who failed to capitalise on the opportunity for global publicity, had been kept on the back foot during the G8,.

He said: "We don't want to over play the threat but, if you look at the last few months - aimed at police officers there have been pipe bomb attempts, shooting attempts, mortar attempts, explosive full projectiles and it is the investment that has been made in counter terrorism in the last few years alongside the continual development of personal, friendly policing which we saw over the last weekend that is stopping them. But, they are still very dangerous and I don't want to lose sight of that."

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