Editor's Viewpoint: Brave officers in no-win situation
Published 23/06/2011 | 08:00
All sorts of reasons have been put forward for the flare up of violence in east Belfast initiated by the UVF.
Deprivation, lack of loyalist political representation and concerns over a security clampdown on members for historic crimes may be genuine factors in loyalist disenchantment with the peace process, but they do not excuse the orchestrated violence of recent nights.
Instead we should save our sympathy for those who have tried to prevent the violence escalating further with possible loss of life - the men and women of the PSNI. Their courage and discipline in the face of sustained attacks on them merit nothing but the highest praise. They face dangers that are virtually non-existent in any other part of the UK as witnessed by the gun attacks on them by both loyalists and dissident republicans in successive nights. To willingly put themselves as a buffer between the men of violence and ordinary members of both communities in east Belfast speaks volumes for the fortitude of the officers.
The PSNI invariably finds itself the target for those of ill-intent in both the loyalist and republican communities. Just a short time ago police officers were in the front line during violence following a Tour of the North Orange parade. And who can forget the sustained violence directed at officers last year in the Ardoyne area, again after a controversial Orange march. Policing in Northern Ireland, even in times of peace, is a dangerous, and often, thankless task. We are glad to record our gratitude on this occasion.
However, while this newspaper would not claim to have expert knowledge of riot control, there is a legitimate public interest in debating police tactics during recent nights. Is it best to try to contain the violence as opposed to attempting to arrest rioters or their ringleaders? Police will argue that their tactics work in the longer-term - for example they were able to identify rioters at Ardoyne last year and bring 40 suspects to court at a later date. But to the public, the images seem to suggest that the rioters - most of them disguised to prevent identification - have the upper hand.