Budget cuts 'erode police service'
Police have warned anti-terrorism resources should not be eroded by budget wrangling in Northern Ireland.
A total of 171 bombings, shootings and paramilitary-style attacks were perpetrated in the last year, the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) said. With the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising rebellion next year the staff association suggested emotive centenaries could fuel a further upsurge in dissident republican violence.
The powersharing institutions at Stormont are in crisis because of a dispute over welfare reform which, according to the DUP, is threatening to collapse the administration and preventing the passage of a public spending budget.
Police Federation Northern Ireland chairman Mark Lindsay said: "Our ability to curtail and degrade terrorists and dissidents cannot be eroded by balance sheet politics.
"Every resource should be devoted to the task, with no short cuts or skimping.
"We have to remain vigilant as we continue with a decade of centenaries, which are highly emotive and could potentially fuel an upsurge in activity."
He added: "The job of combating terrorism, and keeping officers safe, will not be served well by an adherence to best accounting practices."
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers are owed over 33,000 rest days and Mr Lindsay told Federation representatives attending the PFNI's 43rd annual conference near Belfast officers would find it increasingly difficult to deliver the service the community had a right to expect.
"There will be a heavy price to pay for cutting neighbourhood policing.
"People will soon see an impaired service, one that will fail to match the rightful expectations of the communities we serve. The future of policing is uncertain.
"As police officers, we will continue to do all we can to keep people safe, but I have to ask, if that commendable goal can be delivered with significantly fewer resources?"
Northern Ireland's public finances are uncertain because of divisions between Sinn Fein and the DUP, the largest parties in the coalition government at Stormont.
New structures agreed as part of an earlier political deal to address the legacy of Troubles violence and take the pressure off police could be endangered and the potential financial black hole caused by the welfare tussle could have ramifications across public services.
The Democratic Unionists have warned that failure to pass benefits legislation will leave the Executive having to bridge an unsustainable £600 million funding gap.
Mr Lindsay said f ewer officers, restricted opening times at enquiry offices, less cash and a reduced number of stations will have dire consequences for the PSNI's overall level of service.
"There is a harsh reality here.
"We will continue to do our best for people in their hour of need - that's in our police 'DNA'. But far from being more responsive to the needs of the community, we will see a worrying reduction in service.
"Officers are caught up in an unprecedented shake-up, with members forced to gather statistics, instead of being out on the ground serving the public."
He criticised "fiscal madness" which meant a late allocation of £14 million was refunded to Government at the end of the last financial year.
He said: "This is an anomaly that has got to change. If we're given an unexpected refund the service should be able to carry it over into the next financial year."
Last year there were 740 assaults on officers.
"There is no real appreciation of the knock-on effects assaults and injuries have on our men and women. There is a clear risk in doing the job, but that seems to be overlooked ... Morale is low, and getting lower."