Northern Ireland news

PSNI 'stop and search' operations criticised

West Belfast men Gerard Fitzpatrick and Alec McCrory are members of a new group set up to highlight alleged 'stop and search' abuses by the PSNI
Connla Young

A new group has been set up in west Belfast to highlight PSNI ‘stop and search’ operations.

The move comes after concerns abut the number of stop and searches being carried out in nationalist areas.

The PSNI are allowed to stop members of the public under several pieces of legislation including the Justice and Security Act and Terrorism Act.

The force has insisted the powers are "essential" for public safety and are only used when necessary.

A new umbrella group called West Belfast Opposes Political Policing, which includes members of the Irish Republican Welfare Association and Eirigi, has been set up to highlight the issue.

Last week Eirigi launched a mobile phone app and website to tell people about their rights during stop and search operations.

A spokesman for the new group, Gerard Fitzpatrick, claimed stop and searches carried out against him in recent months have left his two-year-old daughter traumatised.

Mr Fitzpatrick, who describes himself as a republican but said the group also includes community activists from different backgrounds, claimed the powers are being used to ‘harass’ him and his family.

“They are a flagrant abuse of people’s Article Eight rights (under the European Convention on Human Rights) to a family and private life," he said.

“It’s emotional abuse and it’s child abuse."

Another group member, Alec Og McCrory, said anti-agreement republicans were being singled out under stop and search powers.

He also challenged community groups in west Belfast to confirm if they receive funding from the PSNI.

“Do they want to stand and challenge this abuse in the community?”

Mr McCrory said members of other communities are welcome to attend a protest outside Grosvenor Road PSNI station on December 12.

“They can come and stand here, let's challenge this as a community,” he said.

“Protestants, unionists and loyalists, everyone is welcome, members of the Islamic faith who are facing a high level of stop and search and constant surveillance.”

The use of ‘stop and search’ has also been controversial in Britain, including concerns that powers are used disproportionately against black and Asian people.

However, a spokesman for the PSNI said while "sensitive for many in the community", the use of stop and search powers are “essential”.

“Any member of the public who has a complaint in relation to stop and search can bring it to the Police Ombudsman's office,” he said.

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