Editor's Viewpoint: Law must get tough on Twelfth rioters
It is a sad reflection on society here — in spite of all the advances made in recent years — that, as the Twelfth approaches, the Chief Constable’s thoughts turn towards how to cope with potential trouble.
The police have even considered alternative riot control measures such as foul smelling skunk oil pellets and beanbag projectiles to replace the preferred current option of plastic bullets. This was not a fanciful exercise, but necessary strategic planning as last year there were 10 nights of serious disorder during which 350 plastic bullets were fired to protect officers.
Year after year, police officers are expected to hold the line between opposing factions during the tension-filled marching season. Often they appear as sitting ducks caught between the factions and targets for both.
The public perception is that the police are virtually powerless and that the rioters are setting the agenda. While that is not an entirely true picture, it is certainly the case that the PSNI would like to have more support in keeping the peace.
New crowd control measures are one possible advance, but even more pressing is the need for the courts to hand out deterrent sentences to convicted rioters. The process of apprehending rioters, bringing them before the courts and securing a conviction is a lengthy one in Northern Ireland, certainly compared to the speed with which courts in England dealt with last year’s serious rioting in cities like London and Manchester.
As well, the sentences handed out here seem lenient by comparison. A man who dropped a breeze block on a female police officer in Belfast seriously injuring her was given a four-year jail term. Three Nottingham petrol bombers were given jail sentences of 10, 12 and 14 years.
The Chief Constable is right to ask for the courts and the community to help his officers.
While he is a man who favours community policing, he is also showing that he is not afraid to get tough when the situation demands it. Certainly those hell-bent on creating trouble in the coming weeks should be met with a robust defence of law and order.