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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Unionist concern over police stations
Police stations in some rural areas are under threat
Police stations in some rural areas are under threat
The Ulster Unionist Party has said it is concerned by plans to close up to 26 police stations in Northern Ireland.

The party warned on Wednesday that the closures would lead to an increase in crime.

Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan had proposed the closure of 26 police stations at a meeting with the Northern Ireland Police Authority on Wednesday.

Mr Donaldson is strongly against changes to policing under the Good Friday Agreement.

He said the stations under threat of closure would include strategically important security bases in south Armagh, Belfast and Londonderry.

Jeffrey Donaldson:
Jeffrey Donaldson: "I'm alarmed at this development"
Police sources confirmed the issue was discussed at Wednesday's meeting.

However, RUC chief constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan told the BBC on Wednesday afternoon that no decisions had been made yet.

He added that no moves would be made until the opinion of the Northern Ireland Police Authority, which represents officers, and the public were gathered.

"No decisions will be taken until that consultation has been completed," said Sir Ronnie.

"There is a long way to go before any firm decision are taken."

The police have also said it was public knowledge that some closures are inevitable.

Policing has been one of the main issues in the discussions to break the political deadlock in Northern Ireland.

'Significant stations'

Mr Donaldson said a security source had shown him the list of 26 stations.

He said that while some were small, there were other significant stations on the list.

"Obviously I'm alarmed at this development because the closure of 26 police stations in a small place like Northern Ireland is going to have a very significant impact.

"Not least in some of the strategic areas, like Bessbrook, Newry, Middletown in south Armagh, Fermanagh and Shantallow in Londonderry."

'Not political'

Meanwhile, the Police Authority has said it is an operational matter which has nothing to do with politics.

People have said this is something to do with the politics of Northern Ireland - it isn't

Joe Stewart, Police Authority
Police Authority chief executive Joe Stewart said the issue was being " misinterpreted".

He said: "The district commanders have come to the chief constable and said: 'I have looked at this area and that area, and I think that in terms of resource allocation and benefit to the community, I can do without the maintenance costs associated with this station'.

"From that people have developed, with unfortunate timing, into saying this is something to do with the politics of Northern Ireland - it isn't."

In February, the Northern Ireland Police Authority admitted the RUC was facing financial pressures, but denied reports that it was to close 15 police stations.

BBC NI's Chris Buckler:
"Ulster Unionists are concerned about the reports of closures"
Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson:
"Obviously I'm alarmed at this development"
See also:

15 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Concern about RUC station 'closures'
21 Jan 01 | Northern Ireland
Booby-trap bomb found at RUC station
27 Oct 00 | Northern Ireland
Profile: Jeffrey Donaldson
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