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Parading season disorder costs PSNI almost £7m

Orangemen march to a police line on the Woodvale Road in north Belfast in July this year
Brendan Hughes

THE PSNI spent almost £7 million policing contentious parades and disorder during this year's marching season, new figures show.

The cost of policing parades, protests and related disorder reached £6,722,115 in the five months from April to August.

Loyalist marches accounted for in excess of 80 per cent of the policing spend over the period at a cost of more than £5.4 million.

Policing for republican parades cost more than £1 million while the remainder cost about £190,000.

Expenditure on policing over the Twelfth of July period, between July 11 and July 15, was more than £1.8 million – nearly a third of the parading season costs.

The anti-internment march in August attracted one of the biggest policing spends for a single parading event at more than half a million pounds.

Several police officers were injured when trouble flared after the republican parade was stopped from entering Belfast city centre.

The latest figures were disclosed in a letter to the Policing Board by Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin.

"This is still a substantial amount of money spent on seeking to ensure that serious disorder is minimised and that peace is maintained," he said.

The statistics include the so-called 'additional costs' – the real cash costs of policing resources required – and 'opportunity costs', or salary-related costs for officers diverted from other policing activities.

In the letter Mr Martin said additional costs had fallen compared to 2014, with one of the main reasons being that this year's Twelfth fell on a Sunday and parades were held the next day.

He said July 13 is not a public holiday for police and does not attract double overtime rates.

SDLP deputy leader and Policing Board member Dolores Kelly described the millions of pounds of expenditure as "absolutely galling".

The Upper Bann MLA said a political solution was urgently needed to tackle the cost of policing contentious parades.

"Policing resources are under an immense amount of pressure, especially given the restrictions on public spending from both the executive and Westminster," she said.

"When frontline policing services and new initiatives are under serious threat, we cannot afford to be squandering public money on what is a political problem. It's the annual elephant in the room that political unionism has refused to address in consecutive talks processes. It cannot continue."

Ms Kelly also criticised the PSNI's newly detailed policy where police can charge for services at sport and charity events, but not parades.

"I have already raised my very serious concerns about the PSNI's pathetic policy vacuum on recovering costs from parade organisers. Police are ready to charge rural sports clubs for costs which go above core policing but the most resource intensive parades every year are given a blank cheque," she said.

"This needs to be resolved at a political level as a matter of urgency. Our budget is becoming increasingly strained for all public services and yet tackling the cost of parading seems to be political taboo for some."

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