Organisers of parades and protests costing millions of pounds to police have been told they should pay the bill.
The PSNI is still reeling from the scale of cuts it must make as a result of its budget being slashed, starting with more than £50m of savings in the next six months.
The Assembly heard yesterday that the £40,000 nightly bill to police Twaddell camp in north Belfast alone could pay the salaries of hundreds of nurses.
Another huge drain on resources was a dissident republican parade through Belfast city centre earlier this year, which cost the PSNI £330,000.
Mounting anger over the cost of contentious protests comes as many organisations face laying off staff and events face an uncertain future because of reduced public funding.
Last week this paper revealed that many sporting and cultural events across the province will lose tens of thousands of pounds of funding after cuts made by the Department of Enterprise. The amount of annual funding stripped from events such as Culture Night or the Belfast Mela is less than it takes to police Twaddell for just one evening.
Yesterday a senior police officer confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph the issue of police charging for their services for a range of events was under consideration.
SDLP deputy leader and Policing Board member Dolores Kelly last night said organisers of parades and protests should be liable for at least some of the costs of policing,
She suggested any costs to the PSNI above £2,000 was a fair starting point.
"We have discussed a ceiling, so you would get so much free," she said. "That would mean church groups, Boys' Brigade, Girls' Guides, that type of low-key event, would be protected.
"But for some of the bigger events, including sporting events, there would have to be a contribution towards policing the event.
"That happens elsewhere in England and Scotland to the best of my knowledge."
The move was put to Chief Constable George Hamilton by Policing Board member and Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan.
In response, Mr Hamilton said: "It's not a matter for policing, it's a matter for politics. I as a police officer need to remain neutral on it.
"I see money being spent every night across Belfast on dealing with parade issues and that concerns me. There's other things that we want to do.
"While we're standing at Ardoyne, Twaddell or wherever then we're not spending the money in other places that would actually bring more benefit to society.
"Who pays that is a matter for a charging regime which the politicians need to sort out."
Superintendent Nigel Goddard yesterday said the PSNI was in talks with the oversight body about the issue of charges.
He said: "The Police Service of Northern Ireland is in discussions with the Policing Board of Northern Ireland regarding the policy on charging for policing services."
Mr Sheehan told this newspaper: "I raised the fact that the cost of policing interface areas in south and east Belfast has been £2.9m.
"Added to that, the PSNI budget is being further stretched by the £40,000 per day it takes to police the ongoing protest at Twaddell Avenue. Such strains on the budget are unacceptable.
"Models exist in other countries where protest organisers have to pay a deposit and are liable for any additional costs arising out of policing of protests and demonstrations, and those should be examined."
The call for parade organisers to pay towards the policing of demonstrations comes after it emerged Orangemen and unionists were considering staging 18 rallies across Northern Ireland over the north Belfast parade dispute. A senior Orange figure told this newspaper protests would continue, saying there "was a simple solution to the parades issue".
"The simple solution is to share the Crumlin Road," he said. "Peaceful and lawful protest will continue."
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George Hamilton set out the shocking impact the budget cuts would have on policing in Northern Ireland and the ability of the PSNI to keep the pubic safe. "The constantly changing picture makes planning how to make the savings unfeasible," Mr Hamilton said. "I feel my organisation is being forced into a virtually impossible position."
Charges for service
Police in Northern Ireland have the legal authority to charge for their services.
It is understood the organisers of Carl Frampton's recent world title winning fight were billed for some of the policing costs. And the organisers of a large outdoor music event in the city contributed £10,000 to ensure public order.
Legislation put in place in 2000 gives police the power to charge for their officers' time.
Guidelines set down by the Association of Chief Police Officers sets out categories when considering implementing charges. Police chiefs can opt to choose for all resources to be covered, between 25% and 75% or none.