Baggott defends tactics over NI flag protests

BBC Newsline's Vincent Kearney reports.

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Northern Ireland's chief constable has defended the policing strategy over the union flag protests, which has led to 129 officers being injured.

Matt Baggott said an "over zealous" approach could have inflamed the situation.

He was speaking to the NI Affairs Committee at Westminster.

The PSNI is preparing a report on extra resources needed for the 7,000-strong force. Mr Baggott said more police officers would be needed in the future.

He said that district staff involved in normal policing duties had been "stripped out" to attend loyalist flag protests.

Mr Baggott said: "Had we been over zealous and just literally gone and tried to move people off the roads in a very, very robust way, my sense is that the tension was such and still remains such that we might have ended up with 10,000 on the streets, 20,000 on the street or perhaps even more on the street."

MPs took evidence on the PSNI.

He added: "Tension has been growing over the last six months in relation to other matters and the flags issue gave it a cause."

Officers

Police have also been dealing with the severe dissident republican risk, unrest surrounding loyal order parades and planning for major events like the UK City of Culture in Londonderry.

"Looking over the next two to three years and thinking of the last six months, inevitably we will need to have more police officers," said Mr Baggott.

Protests have been under way since Belfast City Council voted to restrict the union flag flying at city hall.

The council took the decision on 3 December to fly the flag only on designated days.

Mr Baggott said it had been a "testing time" for the PSNI but stressed that the organisation was "incredibly resilient".

He said he was "relentlessly optimistic that we will see through these problems".

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