Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

DUP man bites back over police chief's accusations

A Policing Board member has criticised Matt Baggott after the Chief Constable accused some politicians of not doing enough to back his officers.

DUP MLA Jonathan Craig rejected claims that political figures had not been unequivocal on the law.

He also said Mr Baggott was unrealistic to expect Policing Board members to leave politics at the door – saying that he would "just have to live with it".

Mr Craig was responding to comments made by the PSNI chief in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, where he claimed a lack of agreement was undermining confidence in the police.

His remarks follow a tense summer which saw dozens of officers injured in clashes over parading.

Mr Baggott said the failure of some public figures to be unequivocal in their condemnation of violence had dented policing.

Asked about the effect of local political disputes on policing, he said politicians "should look at need, not just the politics of the situation".

"I am frustrated that we are still experiencing a lack of political agreement and that saps confidence in policing and weakens the effectiveness," he said.

In August there was only lukewarm criticism from unionists after 56 PSNI officers were injured during clashes with loyalist protesters at an anti-internment march in Belfast city centre.

In the only statement from the DUP in the immediate aftermath, Nelson McCausland condemned the violence – but accompanied it by criticising the Parades Commission for allowing the rally.

However, Mr Craig rejected claims that politicians needed to be more outspoken on violence.

"I don't accept his criticism.

"The police need to realise that while politicians criticise the process which leads to enforcement actions which the police must take, we aren't criticising the police. We are criticising the process that led to those decisions.

"That is something which is outside of policing, and we have every right to criticise.

"But we have been equally very, very critical of those who have attacked the PSNI and led to serious injuries, and we will continue to condemn that violence."

During the interview, Mr Baggott said the Policing Board – the body which holds him accountable – is a place where politicians "should leave politics at the door", but hadn't.

"It should operate beyond politics, it should be about the fulfilment of my legal obligations and not looking at it from different political aspects," he said.

But Mr Craig said that was unrealistic: "While we try to come to an agreed position within the board which is in the interests of policing, there are big issues out there which are political minefields and there will not always be political agreement on them.

"Therefore some of that will translate into Policing Board meetings – that is just the reality of the situation and it is something which he is just going to have to live with."

At Stormont yesterday Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness referred to the comments in the Belfast Telegraph that policing "gets dented" when politicians are not unequivocal on support for the rule of law.

Mr McGuinness said the violence on the streets in recent months "represents a real challenge to these institutions".

He added: "Serious questions have to be asked about the response of unionist leaders to the activities on the streets, particularly 56 police officers injured... by the riot in Belfast city centre."

He characterised the difficulties facing the Stormont administration as "quite severe" and pointed the finger at some members of the Orange Order and the Progressive Unionist Party as being "indistinguishable" from the Ulster Volunteer Force.

Mr McGuinness said he was disturbed by the suspected UVF shooting of a 24-year-old woman in loyalist east Belfast recently and claimed if republicans had been involved, there would not have been "silence" from unionists.

Elsewhere, Upper Bann SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said she shared Mr Baggott's concerns about the lack of clear support for the rule of law.

QUOTES

"A lot of the political parties have protested this year about times when we have enforced the law exactly as we should do but it has been subject to political interpretation. That undermines confidence in policing."

Chief Constable Matt Baggott in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph

"I don't accept his criticism. The police need to realise that while politicians criticise the process which leads to enforcement actions which the police must take, we aren't criticising the police." DUP Policing Board member Jonathan Craig

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