Belfast Telegraph

Police must tackle paramilitary shows of strength, UUP insists

UUP leader Robin Swann
UUP leader Robin Swann
Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann will today meet senior PSNI officers to demand a crackdown on paramilitaries engaging in shows of strength on the streets.

He said that many in the community had been unnerved by gunshots fired after the death of former IRA member Peter Rooney and former INLA member Martin McElkerney in west Belfast last month.

Mr Swann will meet temporary Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin, and temporary Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray at PSNI headquarters in Belfast this afternoon.

He said: "We have many questions which we would like the PSNI to answer following two shows of strength in Belfast last month.

"To see armed and masked men on the streets 21 years after the signing of the Belfast Agreement understandably leaves law-abiding people very uneasy and concerned about what is going on.

"We will be asking the PSNI if they believe that these shows of strength mean that the terror groups involved are a threat to future peace."

The Ulster Unionist leader said he would be asking the senior police officers about the current capability of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.

"On both sides - loyalist and republican - they have quite clearly not disappeared into the shadows as so many people hoped. We will be questioning the PSNI on the capabilities of those involved in these criminals displays.

"Such shows of strength should have been relegated to the past a very long time ago in Northern Ireland.

"We had the murder of Lyra McKee by dissident republicans in April. Then just last week there was a device discovered under a police officer's car at Shandon Park Golf Club in east Belfast.

"People are worried about the current level of terrorist activity."

A 40-year-old man was arrested yesterday in connection with the firing of shots at the wake of Mr McElkerney. Police investigating the shots fired in the Divis area of west Belfast on Monday May 20 arrested him under the Terrorism Act.

Social media footage circulated following the wake incident showed a masked man wearing a white shirt and black tie discharging several rounds skywards. Following the volley of shots, onlookers were heard cheering and applauding.

The gunman was surrounded by others similarly dressed and wearing balaclavas.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said she would be seeking immediate talks with the new PSNI Chief Constable.

Former Cheshire Police Chief Simon Byrne will take over from George Hamilton later this month.

Ms O'Neill said: "I am writing to Simon Byrne seeking a meeting as soon as he takes up office because it is vital the new PSNI Chief Constable immediately begins to address the issues of concern in policing here.

"He is taking up office at a time when public confidence in the PSNI's ability to police with the community in an open, effective and balanced way has been severely damaged by a number of recent cases."

"The failure to disclose all relevant information relating to loyalist atrocities and the arrest of investigative journalists who exposed the state's role in the Loughinsland massacre are just the most recent examples that have cast serious doubt on the PSNI's credibility and impartiality."

Ms O'Neill continued: "It is equally clear that elements within the PSNI continue to acquiesce to a British Government policy of cover-up and collusion.

"The same policy that has seen the legacy bodies agreed at Stormont House blocked by a government that does not want the truth of its role in the conflict here exposed.

"If public confidence in policing is to be restored then the new PSNI Chief Constable needs to alert the British government to the imperative of removing the PSNI from dealing with legacy issues by giving legislative effect to the draft Legacy Bill which was finalised two years ago this month."

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