Belfast Telegraph

Baggott stuck between a budget and a hard place

The chief constable is trapped between the need for cost savings and the demands of frontline policing, says Alan Murray

Matt Baggott could be forgiven for suspecting that the Parades Commission is oblivious to his budgetary nightmare.

With savings of £135m demanded of him by the Policing Board, the Chief Constable could be excused for thinking that members of the commission don't appreciate the complications dumped in his lap by multiplying the number of parades facilitated in the Ardoyne area yesterday.

Effectively charged with policing naked hatred in north Belfast, Matt Baggott might have hoped that the commission would have appreciated that fewer parades and demonstrations in Ardoyne might have meant fewer opportunities for rival factions to taunt each other.

Add into that poisonous mix a 'new' directive from the commission for the three Orange lodges that are allowed to 'walk' Ardoyne to do so by four o'clock and you do begin to wonder if Parades Commission members don't calculate the potential ramifications of their decisions.

When Nigel Dodds and Gerry Kelly agree, to a point, that the commission has "complicated" matters, then it should take stock of its position.

Matt Baggott, though, has no choice but to ensure that the directive of the commission is fulfiled to the letter while factoring in the potential for trouble that the Ardoyne situation presents.

With just eight arrests on the Eleventh Night and many fewer emergency call-outs, he will have expressed a sigh of relief that his intense 48 hours of trouble monitoring got off to a quiet start.

The policing demands of 2011 saw one of his female officers seriously injured when a concrete block was dropped on her head, while other officers sustained serious, but not life-threatening, injuries which took them out of frontline duties for months.

The firing of plastic baton rounds by the PSNI has become less prevalent in policing tactics, as water cannon and the use of CCTV footage has been increasingly employed to deter and identify those bent on trouble.

In spite of former PSNI chief constable Huge Orde's rejection of the use of water cannon during last summer's London riots, few would doubt the effectiveness of the tactic in keeping rioters at a distance and avoiding injury to police who might otherwise become embroiled in physical skirmishes.

For most tacticians, the use of water cannon, as yesterday, in appropriate circumstances is a no brainer. Add a foul-smelling ingredient, or a dye that irreversibly taints clothing and trainers, and many fewer rioters brave the jets.

It is the threat of CCTV and perhaps 'marked' water that the PSNI will have to rely on more and more as numbers of police possibly diminish under Matt Baggott's watch. Not only does he not have the numbers that even his recent predecessor had to deploy, he has literally no immediate back-up, should his force fear being overwhelmed during periods of heightened tension.

Avoiding hand-to-hand conflict and the volume and severity of injuries sustained by his officers last year is an acute priority for the chief constable.

Becoming 'more creative and flexible' to balance the books, as Mr Baggott told the Belfast Telegraph on Wednesday, will not deter those bent on disruption on our streets over this and future Twelfths. They aren't going away, you know, to paraphrase Gerry Adams.

The major overall worry about yesterday's scenario dictated by the Parades Commission is that it has created the dangerous perception within the Orange fraternity (and within the ranks of loyalism) that the commission has set out to construct a 'trap' for the Order, as the Rev Mervyn Gibson suggested.

Yesterday, the Order managed to steer its members clear of trouble and compromised, but the commission, in its wisdom, has created a dangerous perception that it is testing the Orange Order and its followers to see how much it will stomach. That would be a recipe for disaster.

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