Northern Ireland

Arlene Foster: 'No two-tier NI police service'

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Media captionArlene Foster said it was important to establish the facts around the parade on the Ormeau Road in south Belfast

First Minister Arlene Foster has said she does not believe there is two-tier policing in Northern Ireland.

Mrs Foster's comments follow the use of CS spray at a junior Orange Order parade and masked republicans marching during Easter Rising centenary events.

Earlier, the Police Federation urged politicians to "stop using officers as a political football".

Mrs Foster said the PSNI need to get to the bottom of issues "causing concern" but had a "very difficult job to do".

She added that "it would be wrong if we weren't able to ask questions of our police service".

Image caption CS spray was used by the police during a junior Orange Order parade in Belfast on Tuesday

"In return they answer those questions and indeed they are monitored by the [police] ombudsman so I don't think that there is a two-tier policing system, but I think there are concerns out there," she said.

Mrs Foster said it was important to "establish the facts" around the parade on the Ormeau Road in south Belfast on Tuesday.

"I know there have been a number of people who have been making their own assessments of what happened, but I think it's important that we have independence in and around the fact finding process and I understand the ombudsman is now involved in this matter. "

The Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the CS spray incident was a "source of concern".

"I saw some of the footage on TV last night and I have to say that I was concerned that a child was affected by CS spray. That has to be a source of concern," he said.

Ch Supt Chris Noble said police had used CS spray during the junior Orange Order parade after coming under attack by adult band members.

The parade's organiser, Noel Liggett, claimed the spray was "indiscriminately" used after police confronted the parade.

'Demanding and dangerous'

Mr Liggett said the spray caused children to have swollen eyes and lips.

The police said two officers received minor injuries during a "minor disturbance". A 26-year-old man has been charged with assault.

The chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) Mark Lindsay, said politicians who did not witness Tuesday's parade "should desist from making inflammatory comments".

He said politicians should "take a more measured, objective position".

"Officers deserve to be supported, not condemned for the demanding and dangerous job that they do," Mr Lindsay added.

"Politicians who did not witness what happened should desist from making inflammatory comments and instead take a more measured, objective position.

"Stand back and take a long, hard look at what you're saying, as your words can stir up community tensions and lead to street disorder, which we can do well without in the run-up to an assembly election."

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Unionist politicians complained after masked republicans took part in a parade through Lurgan on Saturday

The PFNI represents rank and file officers in Northern Ireland.

'Evidence'

Police are investigating three parades commemorating the 1916 Easter Rising in Lurgan, County Armagh; Coalisland, County Tyrone and Ardoyne in Belfast.

Unionists complained after masked men paraded through Lurgan on Saturday and marchers wore paramilitary-style uniform in Coalisland on Sunday.

"Unfortunately yet again we had masked men on the streets of Northern Ireland," Mrs Foster said

"They used the Easter 1916 occasion to bring out those people.

"The time is long gone when we should be seeing those sorts of images in Northern Ireland and I want those people dealt with and I hope that the police in relation to their evidence gathering have plenty of evidence and they can move forward on that."

Speaking on the BBC's Talkback programme, UUP politician Rodney McCune said the police in Northern Ireland have a "difficult job" and face challenges which other UK forces do not.

He said: "If people are concerned about police conduct, or are not content with the way a matter was dealt with, then they should bring their complaints to the Police Ombudsman."

He also said he did not believe there was a "two-tier, political or sectarian" policing system in Northern Ireland.

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