Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Time for less talk and more action

During this week's serious violence on the streets of some of England's major cities, especially London, an often repeated question was if police there should employ some of the riot control methods such as water cannon or plastic bullets used on this side of the Irish Sea.

However, given the reaction of politicians and police in England, a more pertinent query might be what we can learn from them.

For some time the PSNI has adopted a softly softly approach to sectarian rioting in Northern Ireland. The public has been dismayed, even horrified, to watch television images of police officers stoically holding the line between gangs of thugs and being subjected to all manner of violence from stone throwing to petrol bombing to even gunfire. Assurances that CCTV would be used to identify the lawbreakers and bring them to justice at a later date seemed a meek and inadequate response.

Police were subjected to the same criticism initially in London as buildings were set alight, shops looted and innocent passers-by mugged by gangs of rioters, apparently acting with impunity. But strong political and police leadership swiftly changed the approach. More police were put on the streets, large numbers of rioters were arrested and fast-tracked into court and justice was meted out swiftly. The clear message to an irate public was that the authorities had reclaimed the streets for the law-abiding.

There is nothing more demoralising for ordinary, decent members of the public than to see lawbreakers appearing to get away with crime. Or course the PSNI will argue that justice will eventually catch up with the thugs, but even if it does, the impact is lessened by the passage of time. Police, politicians and the public acting in consort to deal out swift justice sends out a far more potent message and does much to instil confidence in the law. Perhaps we need to follow the English example more than they need to copy our methods

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