Editor's Viewpoint: PSNI budget must surely be protected
It can be argued that the PSNI faces the most onerous task of any police force in the UK.
On top of its normal day-to-day operational duties, the force faces an on-going, high level threat from dissident republicans, highly organised criminal gangs with international links and a forthcoming period of potentially inflammable marches. That is the background against which possible budget cuts of £1m a week could be imposed.
This newspaper has questioned in the past if the new Coalition government really understands, or takes account of, the unique pressures of life in Northern Ireland when it begins drafting its austerity measures. Undeniably, this province cannot be exempt from public spending cuts or general economic prudence, but recognition must also be given to the legacy issues which have left Northern Ireland ill-equipped to shoulder the savage cuts to its budget which seem imminent.
On the very day when the potential decimation of the PSNI budget was revealed, police were engaged in attempting to police a riot in Craigavon. Two officers were severely injured earlier this week when they confronted a smuggling gang in South Armagh and a huge bomb was left outside a rural police station. For virtually the first time in the history of this province the police enjoy the confidence of all sections of the community. The only reservation voiced is the ability of the force to effectively confront the challenges it faces. That ability will be sorely reduced if budget cuts of the scale suggested are implemented.
When policing and justice powers were devolved to the Executive earlier this year, the then Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, announced there would be an extra £800m in the coffers to help with the transition. Indeed, First Minister Peter Robinson said his party's tactics had forced Gordon Brown to concede the extra funding. How come just a few months later, the PSNI faces a financial crisis? Surely there is an undeniable argument policing here be treated as a special case?