Fury as bill for policing parades hits £1m a week... and that doesn't include flag protests
A weekly bill of almost £1m to police parades and associated protests has been branded "shocking and unsustainable".
The total, made public by the Policing Board and covering parades from April 1 until October 31, does not even include the cost of policing flag protests. During the seven-month period a total of £26m was spent policing parades across Northern Ireland – more than £90 per minute.
The figure includes daily costs of over £40,000 to police a loyalist protest camp in north Belfast.
The cost emerged as US diplomat Richard Haass and his team continued to work on negotiating a deal on a number of contentious issues, including parades.
Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said the millions spent on policing parades could have been put to much better use elsewhere.
"This money should have been spent on community policing and protecting against the terrorist threat," he said. "It is unsustainable to expect the police to continue to spend so much of their budget on parades.
"At a time when dissident republicans have left three bombs in Belfast city centre, this money could have been better spent on protecting the public."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron urged the Stormont parties to show some "give and take" in the Haass talks to help bring Northern Ireland's communities together.
The PM's intervention at Question Time in the Commons came as the negotiations chaired by Dr Haass approached D-day.
Stormont's Executive parties are expected to lock horns today as the Haass project – initiated by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness – moves towards breakthrough or breakdown.
A late night make-or-break session is on the cards tonight after the five main parties waited for redrafted proposals on the issues – flags, parades and dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.
And there is speculation the negotiations could stretch into tomorrow, ruining Dr Haass's tentative deadline for a deal by close of business today, but preventing a crash landing.
Party sources have also suggested that, without agreement, Dr Haass and his vice-chair Meghan O'Sullivan could return to Northern Ireland on December 27. Mr Cameron told MPs: "I think we all agree that Richard Haass is carrying out a very important and extremely difficult task, looking into the issues of parades, of flags and, of course, the past.
"But I hope that everyone will try to look at this process with some give and take to try and bring the communities together."
The PM's comments came in response to a question from the DUP's Gregory Campbell who warned any attempt to alter Northern Ireland's status within the United Kingdom would mean failure for the Haass process.
In Dublin, meanwhile, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers reported there had been progress on some of the issues, but it was recognised that Dr Haass faced an extremely difficult task.