A police officers’ representative body has lodged a formal complaint alleging senior commanders failed to take measures to protect its members during violent street disorder in Northern Ireland.
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland said 820 officers were injured during riot situations in the region last year.
Among claims outlined in the complaint to the Health and Safety Executive were alleged delays in deploying water cannon and sanctioning the use of baton rounds when trouble escalated.
Last year witnessed sustained bouts of loyalist rioting linked to a controversial decision to limit the flying of the Union flag on Belfast City Hall and after a contentious Orange Order march was prevented from passing a nationalist area in the north of the city. In previous years police were attacked in similar fashion by republican rioters.
Police Federation NI chairman Terry Spence, in a speech to members at its annual conference, said of the officers injured last year, 50 sustained a potentially life-threatening concussion condition, second impact syndrome.
“Instead of being returned to the front line, officers should be hospitalised immediately for concussion, and given time to fully recover, as is the case for injured participants of close contact sports,” he said.
“Poor lines of decision making, and delayed authorisation of the deployment, and use of necessary protective measures, such as AEPs (attenuated energy projectiles) and water cannon, are the major reasons for the shocking injury toll.
“Whenever officers call for the deployment and use of AEPs, then that request must be granted without delay.
“Like all workers, we have every right to the protection of health and safety legislation. It is the law and it must be obeyed by those in authority. There can be no excuses.
“This federation believes there was a failure by command in its duty of care to officers who confronted violent disorder orchestrated by loyalist paramilitaries during the summer period last year.
“Those in command who dither need to understand that the safety of officers is being jeopardised while those same officers struggle to prevent anarchy on our streets.”
Mr Spence also insisted members were determined to thwart the threat posed by dissident republicans.
“We’ve moved on,” he said. “Society is moving on. But these peddlers of misery are caught in a time warp, determined to drive us back to mayhem and bloody conflict. We will do our best to ensure they fail.”