Amidst a highly charged by-election campaign in Mid Ulster, the first minister has warned that Unionists in Northern Ireland are losing confidence in the police force.
Unionists in Northern Ireland are losing confidence in the Police Service according to DUP Leader, Peter Robinson.
Amidst a highly charged by-election campaign in Mid Ulster, the first minister issued the warning following a meeting with the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s chief constable, Matt Baggott at Stormont yesterday.
Declaring that many in the unionist community are questioning the impartiality of the service following the recent protests over the decision not to fly the union jack over Belfast City Hall every day of the year, Robinson explained:
“There is a large section of our community who don’t believe the police have been impartial in dealing with these issues and therefore, in my view (it is) an imperative issue for the police to show why they take decisions, with regard to a set of circumstances, differently than another. That is a matter for the police to show and convince the public.”
His comments come following the news last week that loyalists Willie Frazer and Jamie Bryson had been refused bail in the face of charges related to public order offences connected to the ongoing flag protests.
At the same time, however, senior republican, Sean Hughes was granted bail amidst allegations concerning his links to the murder of Robert McCartney in 2005.
Calling on the police to act more evenhandedly, the first minister explained:
“What I have been advising him (Matt Baggott) to do is to show him that it is even-handed policing that he is leading. That gives him the opportunity to show him 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 another isn’t and it allows the opportunity to be there as to why he deals with parades and protests in a particular way in the loyalist community and in a different way in the republican community.”
“There certainly is a perception out there within 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 these matters are dealt with.
Concluding that those, such as Willie Frazer who pledged to abide by their bail conditions should be released from custody, Robinson argued:
“If somebody is willing to abide by the bail conditions then I think the kind of offences that we are talking about are not, in the overall Northern Ireland context, the kind of serious offences where you would not normally get bail. If Willie Frazer indicated that he is willing to operate under bail conditions, then I would have thought it is proper and appropriate for him to have bail to be able to put together his case and defend himself in the courts. We don’t defend anybody who has broken the law but, that is for the courts to decide.”
The remarks have drawn criticism from the SDLP whose policing spokesperson, Conall McDevitt, accused the first minister of undermining the police service.
In explaining that his party would be considering if the ministerial code had been breached over the remarks, McDevitt explained:
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“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.
“What he [Peter Robinson] 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.
“These reckless and unfounded comments only serve to heighten tensions during a difficult crisis that we are trying to steer our way through.”