Belfast Telegraph

Dissident threat will not disrupt Northern Ireland's World Police and Fire Games: police chief

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK

The PSNI say they won't be throwing a ring of steel around the forthcoming World Police and Fire Games despite the severe dissident threat.

The Games, billed as Northern Ireland's Olympics, will be the largest sporting event ever to take place here, with 7,000 competitors including hundreds of PSNI officers.

With the eyes of the world on the province for the 10-day event, there are fears it could be targeted by republican terrorists.

But senior police yesterday said the threat would not hamper the spectacle, claiming the forthcoming games will the "friendliest" ever held.

Police also said rioting over disputed parades had not deterred competitors and their families from travelling to Belfast.

Around 30 dog handlers from police forces across the UK are to be brought in to help the PSNI with duties such as venue security and searching carried out by private security firms.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay, who is in charge of the policing operation surrounding the games, said the balance of policing was right.

"The security risk and threat to police officers is there – it has been with us for so long now and that is sad and unfortunate but we know our business; we know how to go about our business and we know how to keep our people safe," he said.

"We have been working at this for some time – much longer than we had for the G8.

"From the outset we have enough policing to enable people to be able to feel safe, secure and reassured but not so much that people feel intimidated. Should we have a need we will flex and adapt accordingly.

"It won't be fortress Northern Ireland – that would defeat the purpose of this event. The plan is to make these the friendliest Games," he said.

The cost of staging the competition is estimated at £13.8m.

About half of that amount (£6.88m) is coming from Stormont's Department of Culture Arts and Leisure (DCAL).

It has been anticipated the competition will generate about £20m for the local economy, with thousands of athletes' family members accompanying them to Northern Ireland.

To date 6,682 serving and retired police and firefighters from 67 countries including Brazil, India, Russia and Bermuda have registered for the 10-day event which starts on August 1.

Organisers had hoped to attract more than 10,000 competitors but have revised the figures down to around 7,000.

The largest contingent of participants will fly in from the US and Canada with around 700 registered from Northern Ireland and over 400 from the Republic.

A further 3,500 volunteers have signed up to help at the 42 venues which are hosting the 56 different sports.

Mr Finlay said there had been no cancellations despite some people seeking reassurances after five nights of violence followed the annual Twelfth commemorations.

He said: "We have had a number of inquiries coming from abroad with people looking at some internet or news footage about Northern Ireland where they are a bit concerned.

"My assessment is that if people are not coming to the Games it is not because of security."

A number of police officers taking part have asked that their names and pictures are not carried in reports of events they are competing in, citing fears over their personal safety.

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie said officers taking part in competitions will be given up to three days' additional paid leave to do so.

Olympic gold medal winner Dame Mary Peters, patron for the 2013 World Police and Fire Games, said: "These Games are our Olympics."

The opening ceremony takes place in the King's Hall and an athletes village will be set up at Custom House Square in Belfast city centre.

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