Police powers to deal with the dissident republican threat in Northern Ireland will be seriously curbed under new changes to stop and search laws.
The controversial stop and search powers are to be restricted after the Government confirmed plans to reform the rules on dealing with suspected terrorists.
The PSNI has been accused of abusing the powers, which resulted in almost 10,000 searches across the country in 2009. Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said the changes will extend to Northern Ireland, but senior politicians and members of the Policing Board have hit out at the reforms, saying they will make it harder for police to combat dissident activity.
The DUP’s Gregory Campbell said the Government had made a commitment to making sure the powers were “being tightened up, not watered down”.
“The police need these powers as a necessary weapon in their arsenal against the terrorists who would seek to drag us back into bloodshed and violence,” he said.
The decision to overhaul the legislation comes a year after the European Court ruled it was illegal to stop and search potential terrorists without grounds for suspicion. Under the current legislation — Section 44 of the Terrorism Act — officers can stop and search anyone in a designated area without having to show cause.
Under the new rules, prior |authorisation by a senior police officer, confirmed by the Secretary of State, will be required before searching a person without grounds to do so.
In a written statement tabled at Westminster, Mr Paterson confirmed plans to amend the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007. He said the Home Secretary had decided to replace the legislation “with a more tightly circumscribed power”.