UK Army medics deployed to help frontline hospital staff in Northern Ireland are more at risk of getting Covid than coming to harm due to dissident republicans, a former PSNI chief has said.
Alan McQuillan, an ex-Assistant Chief Constable, said that while there is always the potential for Army personnel to be targeted here, steps taken by the security forces should ensure it is as low as possible.
He also hailed the support of Sinn Fein in backing the military aid, which will see 100 medical technicians provide nursing support to health trusts here during the current Covid-19 surge, as important in bolstering widespread acceptance from the public.
Their arrival is expected in the coming days and Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill has said the issue should not made into a political football, adding her party's priority is to "save lives", adding that "we do not rule out any measures".
Mr McQuillan: "I think it would be absolute madness for dissidents to attack people who are working hospitals trying to save the lives of other people."
He revealed the MoD will be looking at all the factors; where the Army medics will be working and what type of wards they will be stationed to, but stressed that he didn't believe any of our hospitals would pose any particular great risk.
"Don't forget our hospitals are reasonably secure at the minute because they're trying to keep people out due to the Covid risk," he added.
"Throughout the Troubles there was a military ward in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, and that was guarded and looked after," he explained.
"Anything can be overcome, it's just a case of making sure you plan for what may be a problem."
However, he underlined that the risk posed by dissidents could never by discounted.
In November 1991 a bomb planted by the Provisional IRA exploded in the military wing of Musgrave Park Hospital, killing two soldiers and 11 civilians - including a girl aged five and a four-month-old baby.
The former police chief stressed that nearly 30 years later the "vast, vast majority" of people here are in favour of the military deployment to assist in the pandemic emergency.
"I don't think this will present any significant headache for the MoD. I think they'll manage it along with the police," continued Mr McQuillan.
"I don't see any significant issue for them. They will have to take care - they're duty bound to do that, but I think the soldiers are more at much greater risk of catching Covid than they are of attack."
He stressed he expected the PSNI to be working closely with the MoD on this matter, noting that police officers work in conjunction with hospitals on a daily basis.
In response, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd told the Belfast Telegraph on Thursday that the PSNI does not comment on security matters for operational reasons.
"Since the start of the pandemic, the police service has been fully committed in working to support and protect the Health Service and thereby save lives. This will continue until we are all through this," he added.