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PSNI chief: If public disorder breaks out we couldn't police it 'comprehensively'

By Michael McHugh

Published 13/05/2015

Paramilitary-style attacks, on the rise again, were much more common during the Troubles
Paramilitary-style attacks, on the rise again, were much more common during the Troubles

Detectives in Northern Ireland are unable to provide "comprehensive coverage" if public disorder threatens, a police commander has revealed amid an increase in the frequency of paramilitary attacks.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief superintendent Nigel Grimshaw made the revelation as he said some communities faced the worst excesses of violence and criminality.

It comes as he said an increase in the frequency of shootings and paramilitary attacks in Northern Ireland is a worrying throwback to the past.

Almost 100 people were targeted by paramilitaries last year. Most were assaulted - but 36 were shot, according to police figures. The number of cases has increased in the past year.

Dissident republicans opposed to the peace process have stepped up their activity level in recent weeks.

Mr Grimshaw said: "During the financial year 2014/15, whilst the numbers of bombing incidents have thankfully decreased, we have nonetheless seen increases in the numbers of shootings and indeed paramilitary style attacks.

"The latter is a worrying throwback to years gone by, when paramilitaries sought to rule communities through violence and fear."

He said prison numbers were growing, with more people sentenced for terrorist-related offences, and called for the community to come forward and help police.

"We are calling on people to do the right thing, and we recognise they need support to do so at political, civic and community level.

"Support in particular for those from neighbourhoods on both sides of the sectarian divide who continue to see the worst excesses of violence, criminality and manipulation by people who peddle a perverse logic that they are somehow offering protection and acting in the interests of their community.

"We must continue to break down this myth and support people to say enough is enough."

He addressed the AGM of the Superintendents' Association of Northern Ireland.

"We need to see the full implementation of strategies and policies which deal with those issues which continue to haunt us - parades, identity, and in particular the past.

"Left unresolved, these issues continue to place a significant financial burden on PSNI and can cost us considerably more in terms of community confidence in policing.

"We need, as a society, to find mechanisms to reconcile our differences, and tackle division, without bringing frustrations and disputes on to the streets with the consequent risk of disorder.

"If we don't, others will continue to exploit that vacuum - but the ability of the police to absorb the impact will be different."

The Stormont House Agreement before Christmas envisaged a mechanism for dealing with contentious issues left over from 30 years of conflict.

It has been stalled by Sinn Fein's refusal to implement welfare reform in a battle over austerity.

Mr Grimshaw added the Agreement provided a welcome opportunity to deal with the past in a more structured and coherent way.

"There is no place in 2015, some 17 years after the Good Friday Agreement, for terrorism to still manifest on our streets.

"There is no place for paramilitary organisations, gangsterism, and the associated organised criminality that still blights many of our communities."

Financial pressures mean the force is under pressure, Mr Grimshaw said.

"Our communities will have to understand what it is like for the police to say 'no' at times.

"No, we cannot attend your call for service at this exact moment, no, we cannot contribute resource, financial or human, to that community initiative or meeting, or no, we cannot provide comprehensive coverage from our detectives on some of our biggest operational days because they are required to perform public order duties in relation to major events, parades or protests."

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