Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

SDLP defends police after Sammy Wilson criticises top officer

An SDLP MLA and party justice spokesman has told DUP minister Sammy Wilson to lay off the police handling of recent rioting in Ardoyne.

Mr Wilson said it seemed the scourge of “politically correct senior policemen” is invading the PSNI and warned the trend must stop.

His comments came after Assistant Chief Constable Alastair Finlay urged politicians to show leadership after riots last week in which more than 80 officers were injured.

But SDLP North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness, who witnessed the violence, yesterday defended police tactics and called people to support them, not slate them.

“As an eyewitness to the trouble in Ardoyne I saw the police tactics were to contain the rioters and contain the riot and then use photographic and eyewitness evidence,” he said.

“The police are the professionals and I would ask people to leave it to their professional judgment.

“The officers showed skill and courage and we ought to be supporting them, not criticising them.”

Mr Finlay singled out First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who, he said, had not stepped out to condemn the onslaught on officers.

Mr Robinson branded the remarks “disappointing, unhelpful and unacceptable” and said he would raise them with Chief Constable Matt Baggott.

But Mr Wilson said it seemed the “chattering classes”, who now included the ACC, fall back on the “headline-grabbing tactic of blaming the politicians and the Orange Order”.

In a newspaper column the Finance Minister said Mr Robinson has worked to achieve loyalist decommissioning and Sinn Fein had worked to undo some tensions around parades.

“Despite these efforts, there are still twisted, thuggish, terrorist-supporting trash who are willing and capable of wreaking destruction.

“They are the people who the chattering classes and the senior police should be targeting,” he added.

The East Antrim MP said the actions of rioters should not be “excused by some pathetic social worker-type excuse” that their activities are due to a failure of politics. “This current trend in policing must stop.”

Asked for a response, a PSNI statement said Mr Baggott — who met Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness in the aftermath of the rioting — “has been very clear on this issue that it is incumbent on everyone from politicians to the wider community to find long-term solutions to the issue of parades and protest rather than merely policing the symptoms every summer”.

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