Belfast Telegraph

Chief constable calls for dialogue

The PSNI is being dragged into toxic areas such as parading and the past, Northern Ireland's most senior police officer has warned.

Matt Baggott, who was addressing a Sinn Fein-organised event for the first time, used the opportunity to call for more dialogue around policing. He also claimed there should be further discussion on what constitutes public interest.

Mr Baggott said: "We are dragged relentlessly into areas which have become increasingly toxic and are holding us back from protecting people in the here and now that is to do with the past and parades.

"At the moment we are spending huge resources because, we are required to by law, to relentlessly go back into the 70s, 80s and 90s whether that is through inquests or inquiries."

Mr Baggott and a number of other senior police officers had to be taken into the conference at Belfast's Europa Hotel through a side door after a small crowd of loyalist protesters gathered at the front of the city centre building. Up to 20 people held placards which read "PSNI -- Gerry Kelly's puppets" and waved Union flags.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness were heckled as they arrived at the hotel.

Former PUP leader Dawn Purvis, Reverend Harold Good who oversaw the decommissioning of IRA weapons, Pastor Gary Mason from the East Belfast Mission in the loyalist heartland of Newtownards Road and victim's campaigner Alan McBride, whose wife was killed in the Shankill bomb, were also among the invited guests at the Belfast: A City of Equals in an Island of Equals conference.

The Ulster Unionist party leader Mike Nesbitt had agreed to give a keynote address but pulled out of the event because of controversial remarks made by the Sinn Fein Education Minister John O'Dowd.

During his speech, Mr McGuinness revealed he had secretly met with some of the leaders of the flag protests and claimed politicians had a responsibility to relieve police of the burden of dealing with difficult scenarios.

He said: "During the flag protest I actually met with some of the leaders of the protests. One of them said to me, politically I feel British but culturally I feel Irish. Even the comment I am politically British but culturally Irish was common ground that I would stand on with someone that was seen to be in the leadership of the flag protests. I think solutions to all of these big challenges can be found."

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