Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Unlike Darth, Baggott won't use the force

Outside the shop in Anne Street a group of "officers" in protective gear and helmets and "soldiers" with backpacks and some serious-looking weaponry milled around.

Beyond them, at the end of the street you could see the white PSNI land rovers shepherding the flag protesters on their circuitous Saturday trawl through the city.

So who then, were the "armed" personnel in Anne Street? Not reinforcements for the police as it turned out, but actors in Star Wars outfits drumming up business for a local shop. Darth Vader was among them. Also, a bit incongruously, Captain Jack from Pirates of the Caribbean. On the thoroughfare beyond meanwhile, no effort was being made to stop Saturday's protest pirates. I followed the Shankill contingent (about 80 odd - and that's being generous) as they strutted down the bottom of Royal Avenue into Donegall Street, then down Waring Street, and along to Queen's Square and Oxford Street to meet their brethern and sistern from the East. All this in the middle of the road. All this overseen by PSNI officers. The car park into and out of Victoria Square was sealed off by police landrovers as the ragtag parade passed.

Joined by the contingent from the East - and again this is being generous - the protesters now numbered around 200-300 in total (including small children, youths with scarves over their faces and one husky-type dog).

They swaggered along to the City Hall. Their "parade" took less than two minutes to pass by. But the police operation for this resembled something you'd expect for the G8 conference. Dozens of landrovers. Hundreds of police officers forced to stand powerless as yobs booed and hurled verbal abuse at them.

None of this, I want to stress, is the fault of the officers - the brave officers - on the frontline. But it is a shambles of a strategy.

Matt Baggott, you seriously need to get a grip. Darth Vader in Anne Street on a Saturday afternoon is surreal enough. But the policing of this now weekly protest is on a whole different level. It is insanity, pure and simple. Ludicrous, dangerous insanity.

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