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Paramilitaries feel immune to prosecution after police failure to curb criminal activity

letter of the day: flags dispute

It was perfectly clear to any observer of the flags protest in 2012/13 that the PSNI, overstretched and fearful of public disorder, failed to act to bring these marches to an end (News, February 2). In doing so, they appeared to put the needs of the police service first and the safety of the community second.

We should reflect for a moment on the longer-term effects of this failure to act. The Fresh Start panel's report on the disbandment of paramilitary groups (May 2016) noted: "Some current, or former, members of paramilitary groups continue to exert coercive control in communities' status... this even affects the police, who engage with the individuals concerned to ensure peaceful outcomes to parading disputes and other issues, including flags and anti-social behaviour, even though they are members of proscribed organisations." (Para 2.16.)

Since the flags dispute started in 2012, we have seen a rise in the confidence of loyalist paramilitaries and a belief that they can do and act as they please and will be broadly immune from sanction: active recruitment, the repainting of paramilitary murals, the openness of those involved in criminal paramilitary behaviour and their involvement with mainstream community groups - even though members of proscribed organisations.

It is little wonder the public lose faith in the police, when they would rather talk to these groups than act against them. We also have unionist politicians who are happy to rub shoulders with known loyalist paramilitary criminals.

At some point, "community policing" must mean putting the community first, rather than the perception of giving succour to criminal behaviour for what appears to be an "easier life".

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