This newspaper has often pointed out how police officers are used routinely to soak up punishment during the contentious marching season. They have to hold the line as forces of anarchy from both sides of the divide wreak havoc on the streets. So it is little wonder that the Police Federations in the province and in England and Wales are now demanding more protection for officers caught in riot situations here.
We can certainly empathise with the sentiments expressed by the Federations, even if the demand for officers to be able to use live ammunition to protect themselves may be a demand too far.
However, it is doubtful if many officers from other regions of the UK will be willing to volunteer for service here during the marching season if they are not given stronger guarantees over their safety. Of course there will be an element of risk as in all policing situations, but they should not be left as sitting ducks for thuggish elements on the streets.
This will certainly be a stern first test for new Chief Constable George Hamilton. The law abiding public will expect him to set the right tone from the outset. In the past it seemed that trouble makers were given too much free rein and his language and tactics must send out the message that police will enforce the law strictly.
And he must be helped in his task by politicians of all shades. Far too often too many politicians are mealy mouthed or one sided in their condemnation of violence which attends contentious parades. The politicians must realise that they are the government of Northern Ireland and must do as all governments do – stand full square behind the forces of law and order. They, like the Chief Constable, have to set the right tone.
They must realise from the comments of the Police Federations that officers are fed up being used as cannon fodder. By standing united with officers the politicians can help to create a climate where there would be no need for guns or threats of meeting force with force.