Page last updated at 16:40 GMT, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

PSNI chief 'naive' on dissidents

Matt Baggott
Matt Baggott described the Irish border as "artificial" in an interview

Chief Constable Matt Baggott has been criticised for saying he has "no problem with dissident republicans".

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Chief Constable Matt Baggott also described the Irish border as "artificial in terms of policing".

He told the newspaper that he only "had a problem with dissident republicans' use of violence".

UUP assembly member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Tom Elliott said the comments were "offensive and naive".

Mr Elliot said: "The viewpoint of dissident republicanism is simple - they endorse the use of violence to pursue their goal of British withdrawal and Irish unity.

I have no problems with dissident republicans. I have no problem with people having a view that is contrary to mine. What I do have a problem with is their use of violence, which is just meant to intimidate and take people back to a day when the streets were full of the Army.
Chief Constable Matt Baggott

"Indeed, violence is the central plank of their viewpoint. And it is that viewpoint which our chief constable has no problem with?"

The MLA added he was worried that the new chief constable had "such a laidback view of terrorists" and said the remarks showed "a complete disregard for the fragility of the political situation".

"It is deeply unhelpful and disappointing that the chief constable, for the second time in recent weeks, is involving himself in political spin - he is at least naive or, worse, providing a political mouthpiece for the Northern Ireland Office," Mr Elliott said.

Mr Elliot said that for Mr Baggott to describe the border as artificial, even solely in terms of policing, was "completely unacceptable" and would "leave many unionists reeling".

Peace-time policing

The chief constable also told the paper that even if the security situation deteriorated in Northern Ireland, calling the Army back onto the streets would be "the very last place" he would go.

Instead, he said investigations teams could be drafted in from other forces, including the Irish police.

"I'm not saying that we would have the Garda coming here policing alongside PSNI officers," he added.

"But wouldn't it be great if one day the border became less symbolic, if actually we had Garda and PSNI officers policing both sides of the border under European agreement?"

Mr Baggott added that he would not allow dissident republicans to bully him into changing his plans for a peace time police force in Northern Ireland.

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