Loyalist Twaddell protest camp policing bill tops £9 million: 10-month operation in north Belfast
The cost of policing a 10 month protest camp at a north Belfast community interface has topped £9 million, Stormont's justice minister has told the Assembly.
David Ford said the bill caused him "significant concern" at a time when resources for the police and the rest of the justice system were stretched.
Violence flared in the unionist Woodvale area last summer when Orangemen were banned by the Parades Commission from parading past the adjacent nationalist Ardoyne on their way home from traditional Twelfth of July commemorations.
Rioting broke out on a number of subsequent days and loyalist demonstrators have maintained a continuous presence at the protest camp at the Woodvale/Ardoyne interface at Twaddell Avenue ever since.
This has required a fluctuating police presence to ensure no more trouble erupts.
Mr Ford told the Assembly that about a third of the £9 million bill represented the "opportunity cost" of being unable to divert police resources elsewhere.
He said as a consequence fewer arrests had been made in relation to crimes across Northern Ireland.
"It certainly is something that causes me significant concern that an issue which should not be continuing to cost should cost such a huge amount of money at a time of decreasing resources and we have significant pressures on the police and indeed on other parts of the justice system," Mr Ford said.
"It really is time that the Twaddell camp went away and people accepted the determination of the Parades Commission and ceased putting pressure on the police service and allowed them to do the job they should be doing for every part of Northern Ireland."
Sinn Fein MLA Bronwyn McGahan had asked Mr Ford for the costing during Assembly question time.
SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said the money could have been spent rejuvenating the Ardoyne and Woodvale communities.
"Such a monumental waste of money could easily be set aside if people were to sit down on a neighbourly basis and talk neighbour to neighbour in order to settle this contentious parading dispute," he said.
Mr Ford said he endorsed that view and pointed to the example of good relations between loyal orders and nationalist residents in Londonderry.
No unionist MLAs commented during the Assembly exchanges on the Twaddell costs.