ACC challenged over PSNI response to republican parades

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin. ''Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin. ''Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

A senior PSNI officer’s explanation for a lack of direct police action in response to parades of masked republicans has been called into question by Jim Allister.

The TUV leader described comments made by ACC Stephen Martin on Friday - that someone would literally have to wear the name of an illegal organisation on their uniform to reach the threshold for prosecution - as “ridiculous”.

During an interview on BBC’s Talkback, ACC Martin conceded that the widespread criticism of his approach to republicans commemorating the Easter Rising centenary last week was a concern.

However, the police chief strenuously denied any suggestion of a “two-tier policing” system in operation.

“I apply the same consistent thinking and approach to all parades, whether they come from the republican part of our community or the loyalist part of our community. There is no offence of ‘looking like a paramilitary’.”

ACC Martin said there are offences under the Terrorism Act regarding showing support for proscribed organisations, but that it was difficult to get a conviction in court.

“You need to name of the proscribed organisation on their uniforms,” he said.

The senior officer said “context is everything in the law,” and that consideration is given to a number of things before deciding to intervene during a parade, including whether it was taking place close to an interface or where it would be opposed.

“I could sit here and give you many examples of where I intervene because it is the right thing to do,” ACC Martin said, highlighting last August’s republican anti-interment parade which was stopped by police on the Oldpark Road as it made its way towards Belfast city centre on the Oldpark Road.

Defending the actions of a PSNI officer pictured helping to steady a ladder for a man placing an Irish tricolour on a west Belfast bar, Mr Martin said it “was not in any sense an unlawful flag,” and that he would expect the officer to do the same “if someone was putting up an Ulster flag or a Union flag on the Newtownards Road.”

To clarify his earlier remarks, ACC Martin later added: “The wearing of face masks is not, of itself, an offence. Senior police can issue an authorisation requiring people to comply with a police officer’s direction to remove face coverings. If they do not comply, they commit an offence.

“Authorisations can only be issued in limited, specified circumstances and, as with the exercise of all police powers, must be proportionate in the circumstances.”

Mr Allister has also questioned whether parades of “masked terrorists” will become commonplace.

“How can the PSNI be taken seriously when they claim that in order to be classed as a terrorist you literally have to walk around labelled as such?” he added.