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Flag protests could cost £25m, as help sought to deal with trouble

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The UK government could be asked to help pick up the bill for policing the loyalist flag protests, it was revealed.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constable Matt Baggott has warned MPs he will need more officers after the force dealt with weeks of demonstrations, a minority turning violent and injuring scores of officers - with one MLA putting the cost at £25 million.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was prepared to support a request for more money.

“In relation to the issue of funding for funding which has already been spent by the PSNI, if the Policing Board, the Minister for Justice (David Ford) and the PSNI are making the case for the First Minister and myself that we should raise this with the British Government directly we would be more than willing to do this,” he told MLAs.

He appealed for calm in the coming months with the loyalist marching season due to begin.

“The events of the last number of months have been very, very difficult. It has been a serious challenge, not just to the PSNI but also to these institutions,” he added.

“I hope that everybody will do everything in their power to ensure that everything passes off peacefully.”

The cost of policing the Union flag protests in Northern Ireland over the nine weeks since it started on December 3 has exceeded £15 million, the PSNI chief constable told the Policing Board earlier this month.

The amount is twice that of the £7 million it cost to police the six month period from April to September last year - the height of the 2012 marching season.

The flag protest bill includes duty pay and overtime pay to officers and staff.

Dominic Bradley, SDLP MLA for Newry and Armagh, told the Assembly the bill was now £25 million.

The protests began on December 3, when Belfast City Council voted to restrict the number of days the flag is flown at the city hall.

The majority have passed without incident but some have ended in riots.

An extra £200 million has been secured from Treasury reserves to counter the terror threat.

In addition to the cost of policing the loyalist protests, business leaders have also complained that they lost millions in trade because the demonstrations deterred people from coming into the city.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) estimated that the flag protests had cost Belfast businesses up to £15 million in lost revenue.

In response, the Backin’ Belfast campaign was launched to encourage more people to shop and socialise in central Belfast.

 

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