24 police intimidated out of homes
More than 20 police officers and their families in Northern Ireland have been intimidated into leaving their homes by dissident republicans since January, it was revealed today
The policy of pushing ahead with downsized security despite the danger has seriously weakened the capability of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to respond, a group which represents rank and file officers said.
Last week a barracks at Newtownhamilton, Co Armagh, was attacked for the second time in a fortnight.
Police Federation chairman Terry Spence said: "The attacks reflect a growing confidence and competence among dissident republicans and that they are aware that the police are not responding sufficiently robustly to deter them.
"Unless there is a massive step change in the security response we will gradually sleepwalk into a renewal of a full-blown, murderous terrorist campaign."
Since January there have been 18 bomb and mortar attacks, 18 gun attacks, an officer seriously and permanently maimed, and 24 officers and their families intimidated from their homes, the vast majority by dissident republicans.
Mr Spence added: "The latest incident last week, when Newtownhamilton Police Station was attacked for the second time in two weeks, illustrates all too clearly the ineffectiveness of our response as a police service to protecting the community."
The Police Federation has written an open letter to all ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive.
"The federation believes that Chief Constable Matt Baggott... is seriously constrained by lack of resources, a situation which seems to be the result of an inherited determination to portray Northern Ireland as a 'normalised' society despite the evidence to the contrary," the letter said.
"It is quite obvious that the policy of pushing ahead with normalisation has seriously weakened the capability of the police service to respond."
From June the police will no longer have 350 full-time reserve officers available and by next April there will be 800 fewer frontline officers than at present.
The federation called for a halt to the phasing out of the reserve and a ring-fencing of experienced officers who are also due to leave.
"Failure to address the current situation and related operational shortcomings is already causing the loss of support for the PSNI across the community and is particularly disappointing for us as, in many areas, respect was not previously forthcoming," the letter added.
"The potential damage to the political process is obvious. The federation is asking the executive to exercise its collective responsibility for the security situation and to re-appraise the policy being pursued by the chief constable and the resources available to him."
The police have been criticised for the amount of time taken to respond to security alerts. In Newtownhamilton firemen evacuated residents.
The PSNI has said officers are being cautious because of the danger of secondary devices.
Members of the Policing Board were briefed today about the heightened security threat.
It is understood the danger is greater than at any time since the 1998 Real IRA Omagh bomb, which killed 29 people plus unborn twins.
Following the Newtownhamilton attack, a church minister said people living in that area felt themselves to be abandoned.
Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford answered minister's questions for the first time on the floor of the Assembly this afternoon.
"Let us be absolutely clear. There are difficult issues for the police operating in certain areas but it should be blamed on those who caused the problem, not on those who unfortunately have to respond on behalf of all of us," he said.
"I will do all I can to ensure that if the Chief Constable wishes to make a case for additional resources and makes a valid case we will ensure that case is put to the Northern Ireland Office and to the Department of Finance and Personnel, both of whom have responsibilities in terms of relations with the Treasury."