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Police from Britain on riot standby

Published 01/07/2014

Maeve Connolly




POLICE officers from forces across the UK are on standby to assist the PSNI if there is sustained rioting during the marching season, the new chief constable has said.

George Hamilton was speaking on his first day at the helm of the PSNI, having succeeded Matt Baggott.

Mr Hamilton has taken up the post only days before talks to find a breakthrough to long-standing disputes over parades, flags and the legacy of the past resume in earnest at Stormont.

He said the PSNI did not want to have to use force during the marching season but would uphold the rule of law.

In recent years serious rioting has broken out in north Belfast linked to a contentious Orange Order parade past the Ardoyne shops.

Speaking about the option to draw upon support from 'mutual-aid' officers from Britain, Mr Hamilton said: "We have all the training done, we have the equipment in place and we have worked out how we're going to transport them but I haven't pressed that button yet as it were and we're hoping not to need that."

Mr Hamilton said the priority was to "keep people safe" and "very often that's about balancing competing human rights".

"Our starting point is that we don't want to fall out with anybody. We don't want to use any force," he said.

"We would rather engage with parade organisers and with protest organisers so everybody gets the chance to have their say and exercise their right, whether it's parading or protesting, but ultimately the police will uphold the rule of law and the form that that takes through Parades Commission determinations."

Mr Hamilton urged politicians, parade and protest organisers to "sort it out" because when police have to intervene "it's actually too late and it normally is an indicator of failure on the part of others".

Responding to calls from his predecessor for the establishment of a new body to assume responsibility for investigating thousands of unsolved Troubles crimes to allow the PSNI to concentrate on current policing matters, Mr Hamilton said Mr Baggott had made some "valid points".

"What I would say is the policing of the past for the victims and the families is not some historical issue. It's hurt and pain that they feel today," he said.

"We need to find a way, through the politics and through the institutions, of finding a way of dealing with that in a way that meets victims' needs, meets families' needs."

Mr Hamilton also expressed hope that the Stormont talks would succeed.

"A lot of the solutions we need - the fixes around the past, parades, flags and all the rest of it - are actually political issues but of course they reach into policing and as police officers we have to deal with the consequences of decisions those politicians make," he said.

"So I think it is positive that these talks are happening. I would encourage the politicians to do their best to get to some form of resolution.

"That may involve some sort of compromise. That is a matter for them to negotiate and to facilitate between themselves.

"But they can be sure of this - where that conversation reaches into policing, we will be at the table and we will be there to support them in the difficult decisions and judgments that they need to come to."