Leading article

Debate needed on charging to police parades

There is no doubt that like many publicly-funded bodies, the PSNI is finding its budget squeezed and is having to think carefully about its spending.

In the current financial climate, it is inevitable such a large organisation will look at ways of generating additional income.

The PSNI has drawn up a policy on charging a range of organisations for policing services. This will include pop concerts and large scale, commercial sporting events and many people would support such a move, particularly as similar charges are already applied by forces in Britain and the Republic.

However, in Northern Ireland the range of events facing a policing bill can also include amateur games, community fairs and charity fundraisers.

It remains to be seen what impact this will have on local and voluntary groups and they may well have a view on all of this.

But what is clear is the charge will not be applied to parades, even though this places a significant burden on the policing budget.

The Charging for Police Services policy categorises parades alongside legal protests and said the policing of such events will be ``regarded as part of core policing and no charge will be made.''

A spokesman for the Orange Order contended that charging for parades would be ``unfair, and inappropriate in our democratic society.''

Certainly, it seems appropriate to treat the policing of contentious parades, given the threat to public order, as part of core policing.

But it could be argued that the same considerations do not apply to non-contentious parades which require roads to be closed and officers to be in attendance.

It is a point that is at least worthy of discussion if we are moving to a policy of charging for police time for planned events.

Meanwhile, concerns over Sunday's anti-internment rally in Belfast city centre continue to intensify with the news that loyalists are being called onto the streets to take part in a counter protest.

The call was made by the Ulster Political Research Group, an organisation linked to the UDA. The UPRG's north Antrim branch asked loyalists to turn out in numbers and

urged them to ``stop republican scum'' from marching on the streets of Belfast.

Given the appalling violence and disorder which erupted at a similar parade in 2013, this call must be viewed with the utmost concern.

On that occasion, officers were forced to reroute the republican march.

Unfortunately, lines are now being drawn and the temperature is rising.

It would be in the best interests of the entire community for the rally organisers to confine this march to areas where it has support while the UPRG should withdraw its threat to bring protesters into the city centre.

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