More officers needed due to increasing dissident threat and civil unrest, PSNI chief warns
MORE police officers will inevitably be needed in Northern Ireland because of the high threat of further serious violence, the chief constable said.
District staff involved in normal policing duties have been "stripped out" to attend loyalist flag protests, many of which degenerated into conflict, Matt Baggott said. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in East Belfast was blamed for much of the trouble in that area.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is preparing a report on how many extra members are needed for the 7,000-strong force - half what it was at the height of the troubles.
Police have also been dealing with the severe dissident republican risk, unrest surrounding loyal order parades and planning for major events like the UK City of Culture in Londonderry and World Police and Fire Games in Belfast later this year.
Mr Baggott told a committee of MPs at Westminster: "I do believe that we will need more police officers.
"Looking over the next two to three years and thinking of the last six months, inevitably we will need to have more police officers."
Police have said they will hunt down those responsible for loyalist violence and blamed the UVF in East Belfast and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in South East Antrim for much of the trouble.
Commanders are in discussions with the body that adjudicates on contentious parades in Northern Ireland to establish if it can make a ruling on a mass flag demonstration that has been taking place in Belfast on recent Saturdays.
If the Parades Commission considers that the loyalist event falls within its remit, it could issue a determination that would limit its route, which currently passes the nationalist Short Strand.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland has also revealed that two senior detectives from the Metropolitan Police who led the investigation into the London riots in 2011 have been called in to advise the 70-strong PSNI inquiry team dealing with the situation.
Since the controversy erupted early last month - when Belfast City Council voted to limit the number of days the flag flies over City Hall - 174 people have been arrested and 124 have been charged. A total of 127 police officers have been injured in rioting linked to the dispute.
Mr Baggott told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that deputy chief constable Judith Gillespie was leading a review of police numbers.
"We have to look forward to the next three years, the relentless pressure that is going to apply on us, the current trajectory of the dissident threat and potentially what that means and whether we are sufficiently resilient and we will come up with a number," Mr Baggott said.
He said dissident republicans were resolved to attack the peace process, citing the attempted murder of a police officer as he left home in east Belfast with his young family.
"These are dedicated, professional terrorists," he said, adding that terrorism takes up significant resources.
He said the PSNI would be using officers from across the UK to police the G8 meeting of world leaders in Co Fermanagh this summer.
"We need to review again at the moment, in the light of the last six months of protests followed by protests followed by protests, the level of resourcing we have, the consequence is not so much about being able to continue it, we are doing that by stripping out district policing."