Belfast Telegraph

Budget fears as overtime bill for policing disorder hits £7m

By Deborah McAleese

The PSNI is feeling the financial strain of policing the loyalist flag protests and related violent disorder, with the cost of police overtime topping £7m last month.

This is more than double the £3m set aside in the budget for overtime in December.

With an increase in violent public disorder in recent weeks and a resolve among protesting loyalists to step up their campaign of roadblocks and street demonstrations, it’s feared that the overtime bill for January is set to be even higher.

It is understood that the PSNI has predicted an end of year overspend of £13m for police overtime, mainly due to a larger than expected number of civil unrest incidents last year.

Police sources now say that a potential £6m loss is estimated at the end of the year.

The PSNI is already working under tight budget constraints and was forced to freeze recruitment back in 2010. Chairman of the Policing Board’s finance committee, the DUP’s Jonathan Craig, said he was deeply worried.

“I am not at all surprised given the level and scale of protests and unfortunate violence that there is a massive overtime bill for the PSNI.

“It is a major concern for the PSNI given that it is already operating under very tight budget conditions,” he said.

He added: “The money will have to be found from somewhere. But this is money that could be going into running our hospitals and our schools.

“People need to realise the damage that all of this is doing to our economy.”

Meanwhile, a handful of protests in Belfast passed off without incident on Friday night.

A small number of loyalists braved snow and freezing temperatures at Woodstock Link, Mount Vernon and Broadway.

A 57-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of obstruction of a road, disorderly behaviour and assault on police in the Donegall Road area of south Belfast following a protest on Friday evening.

Earlier in the day police arrested six men, aged between 18 and 49, in the Newtownabbey, Greenisland, Carrickergus and greater Belfast areas in relation to recent public disorder.

And two men, aged 24 and 44, have been charged with obstructing traffic in a public place and obstruction of a road. The charges are in connection with flag protests during December 2012.

Three other men arrested on similar offences have been released on police bail pending further inquiries.

An 18-year-old man remains in police custody.

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