The head of the PSNI has said there is no need to bring soldiers “on to the streets of our post-conflict society” following the Manchester atrocity, after it was announced they would form part of a UK-wide security clampdown.
Chief Constable George Hamilton said he faced no “political pressure” over the decision not to avail of enhanced military resources under Operation Temperer – a plan to use armed military personnel to guard key sites in the wake of Monday’s bombing.
The operation is allows for up to 5,000 soldiers to be deployed in support of police, amid a generally beefed-up security presence on the UK’s streets.
Whilst Mr Hamilton said he was ordering “an increased police presence at iconic sites, our transport networks, and where large numbers of people congregate” in Northern Ireland, bringing in soldiers to help would be “disproportionate” and “unnecessary”.
At the same meeting he also talked of the serious manpower pressures faced by the PSNI, and announced further cutbacks to his force (CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS).
Earlier on Wednesday, TUV leader Jim Allister had issued a statement which said: “Given that it was felt necessary to deploy the military in other parts of the UK I would like to understand the logic behind why this is not happening in Northern Ireland.
“It would be outrageous if political considerations and a desire not to offend republicans compromised public safety.”
Explaining his decision at a meeting at Belfast’s Policing Board headquarters on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Hamilton said: “I’m not going to make a bid for military resources on to the streets of our post-conflict society just because everyone else has the need to do that.
“I don’t think we are at that stage. We will keep the threat level under review and we’ll see what happens in the days ahead.”
He described the current jihadi threat as being motivated by a “perverted Islamist” ideology.
He noted that PSNI officers are accustomed to dealing with terror.
They are also armed already – “a valuable asset that some of our colleagues in other parts of the UK don’t have”.
Asked by the News Letter on Mr Allister’s remarks specifically, the PSNI said: “The decision not to avail of military support at this time is a proportionate operational policing decision. It was not taken under any political pressure.”
Operation Temperer was announced by Theresa May on Tuesday, as the official UK-wide threat level from what MI5 calls “international terrorism” was raised from a “severe” level to “critical” – meaning that an attack is expected imminently.
The News Letter asked the Province’s five largest political parties whether they backed the idea of extending Operatation Temperer to Northern Ireland.
Only two responded by the News Letter’s deadline – the Alliance and SDLP.
The SDLP said it was “welcome news” that the PSNI will be increasing its presence on the streets.
It added: “If the chief constable needs additional resources to tackle the current threat to communities in Northern Ireland then that should be made available to enhance the policing response.
“No-one wants to see a return to soldiers on our streets and the particular circumstances here relating to the threat from dissident republicans make that an even more dangerous prospect.”
The Alliance Party meanwhile said it has full confidence in the PSNI to make such a judgment, and that their decision must not be “subject to any political interference”.
Later in the evening, hours after the other parties had responded, Sinn Fein sent this statement too: “The Chief Constable has said he has enough resources to deal with the upgraded threat to the public.
“The PSNI has the support of the community and the political parties in tackling any threat.”
That means that, at time of writing, the only two parties not to have responded are the two major unionist ones.
The News Letter also asked the police how many troops are already in the Province at the disposal of the PSNI.
It suggested this was a matter for the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).
The NIO said this was a matter for the PSNI.
The PSNI then said: “This is not a matter for PSNI to comment on.”
WHAT IS OPERATION TEMPERER?
On Tuesday, the prime minister announced “the police have asked for authorisation from the Secretary of State for Defence to deploy a number of armed military personnel in support of their armed officers”.
She said: “This request is part of a well-established plan, known as Operation Temperer, in which both the armed forces and the police officers involved are well-trained and well-prepared to work in this kind of environment.
“The Secretary of State for Defence has approved this request, and Operation Temperer is now in force.”
The West Midlands and West Yorkshire forces both said they had no immediate plans to make use of the military support.
Greater Manchester has yet to decide at time of writing.
However, troops will be on guard in the area controlled by the Metropolitain Police.
Its headquarters, Scotland Yard, said troops will be deployed to guard “key locations” such as Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, the Palace of Westminster and embassies, Scotland Yard said.
The decision taken at a meeting of the Government’s emergency Cobra committee will mean soldiers will play a key role in protecting civilians and free up armed police officers to help fight the terror threat.
Scotland Yard said the military will be working under Scotland Yard’s command structure.
It said extra armed officers will provide support for an operation called Project Servator which sees uniformed and undercover officers trying to spot people carrying out “hostile reconnaissance” and other criminal activity on the capital’s streets.
The tactic “is based on extensive research into the psychology of criminals and what undermines their activities”, the force said.
There will also be an increase in the use of stop and search, vehicle check points and number plate recognition technology.