A former Irish defence minister’s suggestion that police are “harassing” innocent people as they battle dissident republican terrorists could be misinterpreted in a way that gives succour to those planting bombs, Stormont’s Justice Minister has warned.
David Ford said that former Fianna Fail minister Éamon Ó Cuív’s public claim was not the best way to address allegations against the PSNI.
Mr Ó Cuív stressed that he had always opposed violence and that where there was evidence of such the perpetrators should be arrested and charged. But he claimed that some of those being targeted by the security forces were not involved in violence.
He told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme: “Security forces only see security solutions whereas we saw previously in Northern Ireland that the answer tends to be political, tends to be to create a society that includes all shades of opinion.”
Mr Ó Cuív said that during a visit to Londonderry some people had made “very serious allegations about police harassment and constant stopping on the street”.
He said that stopping people daily in the street “does not seem normal in any other society that I’ve ever heard of” and added: “There are issues of concern to me in recent years that in my view are increasing the dissident threat rather than dissipating it.”
Mr Ó Cuív stressed that those dissident republicans “hell-bent on going back to the old ways” were “utterly wrong”, despite his reservations about how the dissident threat was being policed.
But Mr Ford told the News Letter: “Police officers have a difficult balance to strike between dealing with normal policing situations and addressing the severe terrorist threat which exists in Northern Ireland.
“If Mr Ó Cuív has complaints to make about the activities of officers, the correct way to address them is with the Police Ombudsman. I believe that the PSNI is doing extremely good work to protect the people of Northern Ireland ... whilst Mr Ó Cuív has made clear his opposition to the use of violence, there is a danger that comments like his could be interpreted by some in a way that leads them to support those engaging in violence.”