Northern Ireland drafts in G8 police for parade season
550 marches planned for Friday, 43 of which are deemed ‘contentious’
The Orange Order parades along Drumcree road outside Portadown Co Armagh during the annual Orange Order parade to Drumcree Parish Church. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire
A request has been made for an extra 630 police officers to be deployed to Northern Ireland from Britain to help oversee planned parades this weekend, a police spokesman said tonight.
A total of 550 parades are due to take place throughout Northern Ireland on Friday.
They will not be posted to potential flashpoints, for example Ardoyne in north Belfast where the threat of disorder is high.
Chief Constable Matt Baggott said: “This is a unique year. If you look at the scale — 550 parades, we have 43 that are sensitive — it would be remiss of me not to plan for every eventuality.
“This particular year I thought it was wise and the right thing to do to bring people over.”
The chief constable insisted the PSNI could cope and claimed violence was not an inevitability of the marching season.
He added: “I never worry but I plan for every contingency.
“When you have large numbers of people on the streets our primary concern is about safety.
“We don’t have, every year the breadth and depth of this neither do we have the volatility we saw in the first three months of this year.
“I am not worried, I am not planning for disorder but as the chief constable we have meticulously planned for every eventuality.”
Last year police were pelted with petrol bombs, bricks and other missiles when trouble flared following an Orange Order parade past the Ardoyne interface.
Shots have also been fired and an explosive device was thrown at police lines during clashes with protesters.
Talks between nationalist residents opposed to the annual march and the Orange Order ended without agreement.
The threat from dissident republican terrorists opposed to the peace process remains at a severe level in Northern Ireland according to the Home Office.
The additional mutual aid officers will be equipped with the same kit as their Northern Irish colleagues but will not be deployed without the assistance of an armed PSNI officer.
PSNI assistant chief constable Will Kerr said: “We are concerned that there is a series of very complex dynamics at play in Northern Ireland and in Belfast on July 12th that is going to be exactly the same.
“What we have to do is make sure there are enough resources to manage all those competing dynamics that includes the severe threat from dissident republicans.”
Earlier this year violence erupted in parts of Northern Ireland after a decision to lower the flying of the Union flag over Belfast City Hall.
Loyalists staged pickets and blocked roads in a failed attempt to have the decision reversed.
Meanwhile, the five main political parties in the Stormont Executive appealed for calm over the Twelfth. In a joint statement they said: “We appeal to community leaders and, indeed others, such as parents to seek a peaceful parading season to avoid an impact on our citizens, through damaged community relations or the life-restricting consequences of criminal records.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Police Federation (SPF), which represents 98% of all police officers in Scotland, said: “SPF believes it is right and proper that officers from Scotland help colleagues in the PSNI when urgent assistance is called for.
“Whilst our members are highly trained and ready to go, the policing environment in Northern Ireland is unique and totally different to ours, with the constant threat of varying incendiary devices and firearms being used against the police.
“The marching season is hardly an unknown event in Northern Ireland and the SPF has obvious concerns about the policing and political implications as a consequence of the deployment of our members but we simply cannot ignore calls for help.
“Whilst it is for politicians to examine whether these implications are a price worth paying, we are absolutely clear that mutual aid should not be used as an excuse or reason to underfund and under-resource the PSNI.”
Meanwhile, an American diplomat is to lead a fresh round of talks aimed at resolving some of the most divisive issues in Northern Ireland.
Richard Haass, a former US envoy to the region, was appointed to chair the all-party talks on flags, parades and the past.
In a statement the First and Deputy First Ministers said Dr Haass was the agreed choice as chairman among the five parties represented in the power-sharing Stormont Executive.
In a joint statement Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said: “We are deeply grateful that an international figure of Dr Haass’s standing has agreed to facilitate these important discussions which we hope will provide long-term and sustainable solutions that are in the best interests of the community.”
It is hoped the all-party group will bring forward a set of recommendations by the end of this year on contentious issues such as parades and protests, flags, symbols, emblems and related matters stemming from the past which were not dealt with in the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.
Dr Haass was US envoy to Northern Ireland in 2001-03 during George Bush’s tenure as president.
He heads the Council on Foreign Relations, a US based independent think-tank.
Retired US senator George Mitchell led Northern Ireland’s 1996-98 peace talks.