Belfast Telegraph

Support officers drafted in to bolster PSNI to deal with public disorder during marching season 'should be armed with guns'

By Deborah McAleese

Police officers from the rest of the UK have demanded to be armed with guns if they are drafted in to deal with public disorder during the marching season.

The Police Federation of England and Wales has raised concerns that personnel who could serve here this summer are not being sufficiently paid, trained or equipped to deal with rioting.

Forces from Britain are on standby to deploy personnel to Northern Ireland within 24 hours should the need arise during the parading season.

Currently, mutual aid officers are not allowed to carry guns if they are on support duty in Northern Ireland.

The chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Terry Spence, said mutual aid officers from England, Scotland and Wales should not be expected to provide support to PSNI officers without being equipped with firearms.

He also said that officers here should be able to use their firearms – most are equipped with the Glock 17 pistol (above) – in riot situations if they feel their life is under threat and they are not able to deploy plastic bullets.

"Officers in Northern Ireland are routinely armed because they are being targeted for murder, both on and off duty.

"How can you expect officers from the mainland providing mutual aid to come here and not be armed whenever it is very clear that they, too, will be subject to potential terrorist attack on or off duty," Mr Spence said.

He added: "It is wrong to say that PSNI officers need to be routinely armed and at the same time say 'but you can bring cops in from other locations in the UK and they can stand there and have no sidearm'.

"That to me is a ludicrous situation and I think there are health and safety issues around all of that."

Referring to public disorder on the Newtownards Road on July 12 last year, Mr Spence said that some mutual aid officers had been the target of blast and nail bombs.

Although the mutual aid officers were not supposed to be on the front line, they found themselves in the middle of serious street disorder.

"It poses the question: if one of those officers spotted someone with a bomb, how are they supposed to deal with it? They are powerless, " Mr Spence said.

He insisted that, because of the severe terrorist threat in Northern Ireland, police officers need to be able to use personal protection weapons to defend themselves and the public.

"That should be no surprise or shock to anyone, particularly our politicians, and I would be very disappointed if they didn't understand that", said Mr Spence.

He added that if someone is throwing a blast or nail bomb at a police officer, that is an intent to kill and police officers have a right to respond, not only to protect their lives but also the public.

"If an AEP (plastic bullet) round could be used in the first instance, then fine. But if officers were taken unawares and suddenly the nail bombs were coming in, the AEP might not be readily available.

"It could be that the only other redress the officer has to protect himself and members of the public is to use live fire. If they identify a target that is about to have a blast or nail bomb thrown at them, the officer is perfectly justified in drawing his personal issue firearm and discharging a round."

More than 3,000 officers from forces in England and Wales as well as Police Scotland were last year trained in PSNI tactics and equipment for the security operation surrounding the G8 Summit in Co Fermanagh in June.

While the event passed off peacefully, hundreds of personnel were recalled to Northern Ireland as trouble flared during the Ardoyne parade the following month.

Background

Hundreds of police officers have been injured during public disorder in Northern Ireland in recent years. Federation chairman Terry Spence said 820 officers were injured on duty during flag protests and violence orchestrated by the UVF and the UDA in 2012 and 2013. In 2009, when police were criticised for using plastic bullets during riots in Ardoyne, then Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde said police in many other parts of the world would have responded with "live fire".

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