Northern Ireland news

Police Ombudsman launches investigation into how PSNI enforced coronavirus regulations at large public gatherings

Black Lives Matter protest in Customs House Square, Belfast earlier this month. Picture by Mal McCann

THE Police Ombudsman has launched an investigation into how the PSNI has enforced coronavirus regulations at large public gatherings.

It comes after complaints were made to the Ombudsman's office when fines were issued to people who attended Black Lives Matter protests in Belfast and Derry on June 6.

Complainants claim police had not done enough to enforce the same regulations during large gatherings on beaches and also at the Protect Our Statues gathering at Belfast City Hall on June 13.

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson said her investigation will focus on the police policy and how it was and is being implemented, including how it is being communicated to police officers "on the ground".

"The powers to enforce the public health regulations came under new legislation and there is the likelihood that they will continue to be enforced for many months to come," she said.

"It is in the public interest that there be an independent assessment as to whether the associated police policy is being applied consistently.

"If we identify inconsistencies and can make recommendations which will help improve policing of public gatherings, we will do so promptly.

"If, however, we identify that there have been good reasons for taking different approaches on occasions, that is something the public should know and understand."

The Policing Board is also examining the matter and will liaise with the Ombudsman's office.

Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International welcomed the investigation.

"The right to peacefully protest is a fundamental human right and people must be allowed to take a stand against racism without being criminalised," he said.

Meanwhile, the Equality Commission has urged the Stormont Executive to make progress on commitments made in its Racial Equality Strategy.

Equality Commission chief Geraldine McGahey said surveys show that "significant work" is needed to "encourage positive attitudes to difference" in Northern Ireland.

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Northern Ireland news