'Protest policing lacks balance'- FM

'Protest policing lacks balance'- FM

First Minister Peter Robinson has asked Chief Constable Matt Baggott to explain policing methods on flag demonstrations, after he claimed there is a "perceived unfairness" in how loyalist protestors are being treated.

Mr Robinson met with the Chief Constable and senior officers for talks at Stormont on Monday to discuss a number of policing issues.

Speaking after the talks, Mr Robinson congratulated police on intercepting a mortar attack which had the potential to kill and injure in Londonderry on Sunday night.

"It could have caused massive loss of life and injury had it been, in the terms of the terrorists, successful," he said.

"It's important to recognise that the basis of that is good intelligence based policing and it's important that we continue to have the cooperation of the local community in order to be able to stop acts of that kind taking place."

Mr Robinson also congratulated flag protestors for a peaceful demonstration on Saturday.

"It was a very sensible outcome, it allowed law and order to be upheld and it allowed people to be make their protest and that's the way it should be," he commented.

Mr Robinson said he had discussed "perceived unfairness" over flags protests by the police and courts system with the Chief Constable.

There is a perception in the unionist community that, when you see several leading republicans getting bail and several leading members of the loyalist community not getting bail, that there is a lack of balance in the way that these matters are dealt with.

First Minister Peter Robinson

He added: "We've urged the Chief Constable, when he has the opportunity, to explain these issues.

"What I have been advising him to do is to show that it is even-handed policing that he is leading.

"That gives him the opportunity to show what the differences are in cases and why one person gets bail and another doesn't; why one person is brought in to be questioned and..why he deals with parades and protests in a particular way in the loyalist community and in a different way in the republican community."

Last week loyalist figure Willie Frazer, 53, was remanded in custody for four weeks over public order offences relating to flag demonstrations.

Ulster People's Forum spokesperson Jamie Bryson, 23, was also remanded in custody on Saturday.

Speaking at the east Belfast DUP AGM on Friday the party leader commented that "everyone is equal under the law and equally subject to the law."

Mr Robinson stated that no distinction should be made between those who lead a protest group and those who follow them.

To suggest publicly that the actions of the PSNI are politically motivated is outrageous and totally unjustified.

Conall McDevitt, SDLP MLA

Reacting to the First Minister's comments, SDLP policing spokesperson Conall McDevitt said the comments serve "only to undermine the PSNI".

He said his party will consider whether the comments are against the ministerial code and whether a complaint should be made.

"The operational and professional independence of the PSNI is sacrosanct and the First Minister would do far better to issue his unqualified support for the lawful institutions including the brave men and women of the PSNI, the Policing Board and the Parades Commission.

Mr McDevitt also said it was "exceptionally unwise" to publicly comment on the application of judicial authority surrounding bail hearings.

"What he failed to remember is that there is clear separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature and this is a fundamental tenet of any democracy," he added.

"These reckless and unfounded comments only serve to heighten tensions during a difficult crisis that we are trying to steer our way through."


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