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Bill for policing loyalist protests in north Belfast tops the £15m mark

Connla Young

THE cost of loyalist protests in north Belfast has been described as "scandalous" after it emerged the bill has topped £15m.

The staggering cost of policing the illegal Twaddell Avenue camp and associated protest parades is costing the public purse an average of more than £870,000 a month, which works out at more than £28,600 a day. More than £10 million of the figure is the result of police overtime.

Details of the huge price tag come as loyalists prepare to mark the 600th day of the ongoing picket with a protest parade on Wednesday.

The camp was set up on Housing Executive land close to the interface with Ardoyne in August 2013.

A legal challenge is expected to be launched today.

The camp was established after members of the Orange Order were banned by the Parades Commission from walking past nationalist homes in nearby Ardoyne as they made their way home from the annual July 12 demonstration in south Belfast.

The ruling sparked several days of rioting across the city during which dozens of PSNI officers were injured.

Since then loyalists have held almost daily demonstrations at the flashpoint.

The latest breakdown of costs was provided by the PSNI to the Policing Board and comes after the PSNI confirmed late last year it was preparing to shed up to 300 jobs as part of massive cutbacks.

The police service also scrapped the Historical Enquiries Team in December after budgets were slashed.

SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly last night said union-ist politicians have failed to show leadership.

"People will be alarmed at these costs and the waste of public money that could be better spent," she said.

"The cost to the public represents a failure of politicians and leadership and in particular the DUP and UUP have questions to answer for giving political cover to the protesters.

"The public and particularly those who have been victims of crime will be extremely angry at what can only be described as scandalous costs and waste of resources of police time and public money."

Orange Order chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson said the organisation is not responsible for the huge cost.

"We would like to see no costs involved and for the sake of 10 minutes along a shared route, £15m would not have to be spent.

"Of course it's a shocking figure, but it's because of dissident activity, the police have to protect themselves."

The senior Orangeman also claimed the camp has come under attack from nationalists in recent days.

"It's easy for nationalist and republican politicians to say these costs are attributed to the Orange Order," he added.

"This is the cost of intolerance and sectarianism as displayed by those who want to live in a divided society with no shared space."

Belfast DUP councillor Lee Reynolds rejected any criticism.

"The money has to be spent because of a series of idiotic Parades Commission decisions and a series of violent attacks by dissident republicans in Ardoyne," he said.

The councillor said the protest is continuing to "sustain" itself.

"The principle we have tried to reinforce is one of peaceful protest, if everyone adapts and lives by that maxim, then so be it."

* FLASHPOINT: The scene yesterday at the Twaddell Avenue camp, above, and Orange Order chaplain, left, who claims the organisation is not responsible for the high cost of policing parades in north Belfast

PICTURE: Hugh Russell

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