Clarity brought to PSNI powers

Posted By: February 02, 2017

Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Supreme Court ruling yesterday that the PSNI did have the power to stop Union flag protests has finally provided a clear verdict on police tactics during this disastrous episode in our recent history.

There is no doubt that this period was extremely challenging for the police service, with resources stretched to deal with dozens of unlawful protests springing up across the north.

It has to be remembered that more than 100 officers were injured policing these demonstrations which at times turned violent while hundreds of people were subsequently charged.

However, from the very start of the protests, which began outside Belfast City Hall in December 2012, police appeared reluctant to take a firm line.

Emboldened by this hands-off approach, demonstrators took to the streets in greater numbers, closing roads and causing massive disruption to everyday life.

We even had the ridiculous situation whereby a small number of people, including youngsters, were allowed to stop traffic on major thoroughfares while police watched.

Misgivings about this strategy of containment rather than enforcement of the law were expressed at an early stage of the protests, and when police eventually took a more robust approach, there was no escalation of violence, and the protests eventually faded away.

The Supreme Court ruling that the PSNI had ‘misconstrued’ its legal powers to stop parades passing through or adjacent to the Short Strand will be seen as a reflection on then Chief Constable Matt Baggott’s handling of the protests and blockades.

It must also be remembered that the confused messages being sent out by the police also served to undermine the Parades Commission.

The judges confirmed that it is the police, not the Parades Commission, who have responsibility for preventing un-notified parades from taking place.

The PSNI will now have to consider the implications of this ruling, but there are others who should reflect on their role during this calamitous period, including those who stirred up the flags issue, supported protests and failed to show