Up to 500 experienced officers are lining up to leave the PSNI over planned changes to police pensions at a time when the force is already under-resourced for tackling terrorism, the Police Federation has warned.
Chairman Terry Spence said the officers are planning to leave if a rise in pension contribution rates, as recommended in Lord Hutton's recent report on public sector pensions, is implemented.
Concern over changes to pensions also come at a time of possible cuts in pay and changes in working conditions for officers, which Mr Spence said could have disastrous consequences for morale and productivity.
Speaking yesterday at the federation's annual conference, Mr Spence warned that the Executive needs to recognise the terrorist threat that officers are dealing with from both dissident republicans and loyalists.
He said that from January last year 32 police officers and their families were forced to leave their homes because of a terrorist threat against them, and that within that time there have been 200 gun and bomb attacks.
"Those of us with more than 10 years' experience are starting to see history repeating itself because of the renewed threat from dissident republican paramilitaries and from loyalist paramilitaries," said Mr Spence.
He said that as well as 650 dissident terrorists, police also now have to deal with the east Belfast UVF "who have decided to create havoc for the local community and for the police".
Referring to last week's violent clashes in east Belfast which police said were organised by the supposedly on-ceasefire loyalist terror group, Mr Spence said that active UVF members freed from prison on licence under the Good Friday Agreement should be returned to jail.
Earlier this month the PSNI announced that 40 police officers are to be recruited from across the UK to help bolster resources.
Mr Spence said while he welcomed the move, at least "1,000 more officers should be recruited forthwith".
Accusing the Policing Board and PSNI bosses of treating the growth in terrorism as "the elephant in the room", he added: "We cannot meet a long-term campaign of terrorist threat, possibly as long as five years, head-on by working officers with endless overtime and foregoing rest days at short notice."
Justice Minister David Ford told the conference that police cannot be the only means by which terrorism is fought.
"That responsibility rests with us all. The threat from dissidents, unrest within communities, parading, anti-social behaviour and so on will only be addressed by a collective partnership response from police, Government, and, most importantly, the wider community," he said.
During his speech, Mr Spence paid tribute to Constable Ronan Kerr who was murdered by dissident republicans in April. "Our colleague Ronan is a noble example of the latest in a series of courageous officers who have paid the supreme sacrifice for upholding the rule of law," Mr Spence said.