Unionists 'think police are biased'
Published 04/03/2013 | 19:31
Large swathes of unionism have lost confidence in the police, Northern Ireland's First Minister has claimed.
Peter Robinson also called for the PSNI Chief Constable to convince working class unionists that he has been even-handed in dealing with the Union flag crisis.
Speaking after he summoned Matt Baggott and his senior command team to Stormont, Mr Robinson said: "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."
Also in attendance at the hour-long meeting was DUP MP Sammy Wilson and MLAs William Irwin, Paul Givan, who chairs the justice committee, Alex Easton and Policing Board member Jonathan Craig.
Mr Robinson described the mood as "good" and said it could not be seen as political interference.
He added: "What I have been advising him (Mr 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."
Last week prominent loyalists Willie Frazer, 53, from Co Armagh, and Jamie Bryson, 23, from Co Down, were remanded in custody charged with public order offences connected to the ongoing flag protests.
On Friday, senior republican Sean Hughes, 51, from Co Armagh, was granted bail after appearing in court charged with offences related to the murder of father-of-three Robert McCartney in 2005.
Mr Robinson added: "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."
Mr Robinson said if people such as Frazer were prepared to abide by bail conditions then they should be released from custody. He said: "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."