Police Federation chairman Terry Spence has appealed for the organisers of a parade through Belfast on Saturday to “reconsider their position” in light of the recent strain on the PSNI from dissident republican attacks.
A group calling itself Loyalist Peaceful Protestors has applied to the Parades Commission to bring up to 10,000 people onto the streets in a demonstration against Belfast council’s decision to restrict the number of days it flies the Union Flag at city hall.
Appealing for politicians to back his stance, Mr Spence said PSNI resources “are diminishing by the week with officers leaving under normal retirement and officers being medically discharged because of the terrorist threat”.
He said: “I do respect the right to parade, I do respect the fact the Parades Commission has made determinations that they can do it, but I would ask them to look at where we currently are with this very severe dissident republican threat, at the upper end of severe, and the fact the police are trying their best under hugely difficult circumstances to bring the perpetrators to justice. But this parade will bring further distraction from carrying out our duties.
“I would ask them to consider their position bearing in mind the 16 bomb attacks.”
Mr Spence said policing the parade “will distract well over 1,000 police officers to deal with the potential fallout from the demonstration”.
“Police resources are already stretched, and Saturday will stretch them to the limit.”
Mr Spence said he believed “a combination of things” have resulted in the current dissident republican threat level.
“There has been a consolidation of these disparate dissident republican groups cooperating more with each other as well as the fact that there is a drift from mainstream republicanism to the dissident camp,” he said.
“Just how big that drift is I am not quite clear but there is no doubt there is a drip, drip, drip movement. And it is extremely worrying.
“There is no doubt when you look at the level of attacks, the vast majority being viable devices and the geographical spread across Northern Ireland, it is a very worrying picture.
“It is something we need to be taking serious cognisance of. We have got to have the resources to bring these perpetrators to justice.”