Remove PSNI officers from firing line: Rocket attack third attempt to kill police in last year
The improvised rocket attack on a police vehicle at a north Belfast interface on Sunday evening was the third attempt to kill officers in the area in the last year. The officers, who are policing a loyalist protest camp at Twaddell Avenue, feel more vulnerable now than ever because their numbers have been scaled down due to budget restrictions.
In the words of one officer, they regard themselves as sitting ducks for attacks by dissident republicans in the nearby Ardoyne area from where the missile was launched at the weekend.
So far it has only been by good luck that no officer has been killed but their nightly presence at the protest camp means that terrorists can gather intelligence on their movements and strength and plan further attacks.
The police are there simply to keep the peace. They are performing a public duty but one which should not be required. The protest camp was set up after an Orange Order parade was barred from returning along a stretch of road fronting Ardoyne on July 12 and it is estimated that it costs around £40,000 per night to police this interface.
That is money which the PSNI can ill-afford from its budget which has been severely cut in recent months as part of Stormont's austerity measures. From a financial viewpoint alone it is imperative that the impasse over this parade is resolved as quickly as possible.
There is little point in politicians condemning the terrorist attacks on police in the area if they do not make a serious attempt to arrive at some compromise between marchers and local nationalist residents.
But it is not just money which could be saved. Lives are also at stake. Given the tensions in the area, police have to maintain a presence but that is putting them in the firing line.
Dissident republicans have specifically targeted police in many areas of the province, but even the PSNI accept that this interface is particularly dangerous.
Both sides in the marching impasse have made their points. It is now time for common sense to prevail. The continued protest in the area serves no purpose other than to put the lives of brave officers at risk. There is a mechanism in place to discuss the contentious parade and work towards a solution.
Now the emphasis should be on taking police out of the firing line and allowing them to continue with other policing duties.