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First Minister: there's no two-tier policing system, but people have concerns

By Deborah McAleese and Cate McCurry

The First Minister has attempted to defuse tensions over police use of CS gas at a loyal order parade as she denied there was a "two-tier" policing approach in Northern Ireland.

However, she stressed the need for the PSNI to address public concerns over the different style of operations at recent dissident republican marches and the Orange parade.

The allegations of a two-tier system were made following an incident involving police and bandsmen at a junior Orange Order parade in Belfast on Tuesday evening during which it was claimed that children were exposed to the CS spray.

The PSNI said an officer used the deterrent on adult bandsmen who began to attack him and that any contact youngsters had with gas particles was "deeply regretted".

The incident occurred just days after dissidents staged illegal parades in Londonderry, Coalisland and Lurgan without police intervention.

Mrs Foster yesterday spoke out to defend the PSNI, saying that it had a "very, very difficult job to do".

She made it clear she did not believe officers treated people from different backgrounds in different ways.

"But she said people were understandably "frustrated" and wanted answers.

"I think it is important that we establish the facts. I think it's important that we have independence in and around the fact-finding process and I understand that the Ombudsman is now involved in this matter," she said.

Mrs Foster added: "I think the police have a very, very difficult job to do.

"I think it's right as politicians we ask questions, it would be wrong if we weren't able to ask questions of our police service. As a political leader, I am of course entitled to ask those questions."

She added: "The police will answer those questions, and indeed the Ombudsman is now involved because CS gas has been used. I don't think there is a two-tier policing system but I do think there are concerns out there and therefore, for the police and myself, we need to get to the bottom of those issues."

A DUP representative was yesterday ordered by his party to remove a post from Facebook in which he referred to PSNI officers as "bootboys" and shared the image of a police officer being blamed by loyalists for using the CS spray.

Ballymena councillor John Carson joined internet trolls sharing the officer's picture on social media in what the Police Federation described as a "campaign of vilification".

Mr Carson could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

Mrs Foster said Mr Carson "was told to take it down and he immediately took it down and he accepts he should not have put it up".

She added: "As I said, people are frustrated but they need to be sensible about their actions."

Chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland Mark Lindsay called on politicians to think very carefully before coming out with statements.

"Officers deserve to be supported, not condemned for the demanding and dangerous job that they do," Mr Lindsay added.

"Politicians who did not witness what happened should desist from making inflammatory comments and instead take a more measured, objective position.

"Stand back and take a long, hard look at what you're saying.

"As your words can stir up community tensions and lead to street disorder, which we can do well without in the run-up to an Assembly election."

Belfast Telegraph

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