Belfast Telegraph

Security takes third of PSNI budget

The police service in Northern Ireland spends almost a third of its budget tackling terrorism, public disorder and parading, it has been revealed.

Dissident republicans opposed to the peace process pose a severe threat and have targeted Belfast businesses and police officers in recent months.

The cost of policing loyal order parades and protests alone during the last six months was just over £6 million, Stormont's Justice Department said.

Fears of a fresh terror threat are growing after Downing Street revealed suspicious packages sent to armed forces recruitment offices in England bore "hallmarks of Northern Ireland-related terrorism".

Stormont justice minister David Ford said the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) devotes 32% of its total budget to dealing with the security situation. Its allocation for this financial year is £791 million.

"Security costs were defined as those unique costs incurred by the PSNI, over and above normal policing costs, as a direct result of the specific security situation in Northern Ireland now or in the past," Mr Ford said.

"This includes the costs of policing the terrorist threat and also the costs of policing public disorder and parading."

Before Christmas, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said dissidents had shifted tactics to target the economy.

He commended Belfast's shoppers for going back on the city streets, but claimed international investment was being lost because of terror attacks.

A suspect bomber was engulfed in flames after a device exploded as he was about to plant it in a Belfast city centre store. Republican extremists also tried to blow up an underground car park and posted parcel bombs to prominent figures including Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

They have targeted police stations for repeated mortar bomb attacks and killed officers, soldiers and a prison warder.

Last July 12, the height of the loyal orders marching season, was marred by violence after the organisation which adjudicates on contentious marches barred Orangemen from walking past Ardoyne in North Belfast.

Loyalists have mounted a constant presence at the sectarian interface dividing the two sides since then, requiring a security presence.

The cost to police the parades and protests from 20 August last year to the end of last month is estimated at £6.2 million, Mr Ford said.

Additional costs are mainly made up of police overtime but also include helicopters, catering and vehicle fuel.

Mr Ford told Basil McCrea MLA: "In recent months there has been a reduction in the number of flag protests and the number of those attending."

He added: "T he number of public order units deployed for the ongoing nightly protests at Twaddell/Woodvale has also reduced over recent months, and therefore the cost of policing each event has steadily fallen.

"It is hoped that these costs can be further scaled back in the weeks and months ahead."

Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation which represents rank and file officers, is calling for an extra 1,000 new recruits.

He said the force was in danger of dropping to around 5,500 officers and warned protesters who have set up camp near Ardoyne could exploit insufficient numbers.

"Police need a belt-and-braces position," he said.

"There is always the unknown quantity," he said, warning that messages could circulate on social media highlighting when few officers were on duty.

He said £2 million was spent on overtime last year.

"We are very clear, the money that is being spent on overtime could be spent recruiting additional officers to the police service, instead of having officers suffering from fatigue and working round the clock and not having any social life.

"Wouldn't it be much better to have fresh officers coming in so that we can deal with any eventuality that comes our way?"

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