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Water cannon 'protected police' in Ulster rioting

Published 15/07/2015

Water cannon is used on loyalist protesters on the Crumlin Road, Belfast
Water cannon is used on loyalist protesters on the Crumlin Road, Belfast

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has said water cannons helped officers avoid injury during serious disorder.

The vehicles were deployed in North Belfast on Monday to quell rioting loyalists who attacked police lines with missiles after an Orange Order parade was blocked. Despite that, 20 members of the force were hurt.

Alistair Finlay, former assistant chief constable of the PSNI, wrote to the Home Secretary on behalf of the chief constable.

He said: "In our experience water cannons enhance the tactical options available to police and are best utilised in support of, and supported by, other tactical options, such as protected officers and attenuating energy projectiles."

He added: "It is clear that the use of the water cannon can be effective in keeping those involved in serious disorder at a distance from the police lines, thus minimising the opportunity for officers to sustain injury from projectiles and direct strikes from violent offenders."

Those approved for use by the PSNI are a different vehicle type to those under consideration by the Home Secretary and have a proven track record.

The PSNI faces a different public order challenge to that in England and Wales, usually a confrontation with static groups hurling missiles.

Water cannon have been introduced for some years during the summer months at sectarian flashpoints like Ardoyne in North Belfast.

Stormont's Justice Department said: "In Northern Ireland water cannon are only used where there is risk of injury to police officers or members of the public as a result of street disorder.

"Warnings are issued to rioters before they are deployed and there has been no evidence of serious injury caused.

"PSNI officers are provided with rigorous training to ensure all safety implications are considered. All use of water cannon is reported to the Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman."

Mark Lindsay, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI), said water cannon have proven to be an effective riot control method where their use affords officers protection.

"It isn't used singularly in Northern Ireland, but in a graduated response to riot situations. It is a safer method of crowd control than close-quarter confrontation.

"Water cannon is but one method of riot control deployed during street disturbances in Northern Ireland. But, as events in North Belfast on Monday night showed, sometimes, in addition to water cannon, there is a need for more robust measures to be taken to protect officers on the front line such as the deployment and use of attenuated energy projectiles.

"From a PFNI standpoint, we're glad officers can call on water cannon in response to violent situations. If its presence and use on the streets results in fewer officers being injured, then it'll have proven its worth."

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