Peter Robinson stands by comments on policing

Peter Robinson Peter Robinson made his initial remarks on Monday

The NI first minister has said he stands by comments that the PSNI must address a perception they treat loyalists differently than republicans.

Peter Robinson made his initial remarks on Monday after a meeting with chief constable Matt Baggott.

He has now said Mr Baggott and the Lord Chief Justice cannot be "immune from the need for these perceptions to be addressed".

He said they had a responsibility to deal with the issue.

He also said they had to explain the facts and circumstances.

"Such explanations are necessary and indeed beneficial to strengthen the operation of the criminal justice system," he added.

"In that context I welcome the letter sent on behalf of the Lord Chief Justice and his acknowledgement that public representatives are entitled to express views on decisions made by the courts or indeed the perception of how the courts have acted.

Analysis

Tension on the streets over the flags issue may have subsided, but there is no sign of an end to the political row at Stormont.

Peter Robinson's latest statement shows the depth of feeling. His language is terse and his message is blunt. The same tone has been used by his political opponents in recent days.

There is no doubt that the flags issue has soured relations at Stormont. The most obvious example is how seldom the First and Deputy First Minister have been seen together in the past three months.

However, there is no indication of a serious threat to devolution and the power-sharing executive.

The truth is that political disturbances at Stormont are much easier to control than trouble on the streets.

"I hold the same view as the Lord Chief Justice that judges should therefore be free to act independently without improper influence.

"I hold the same position with respect to the operational independence of the police but that core principle does not remove the requirement to ensure concerns are addressed and decisions taken by the police and the judiciary are explained, especially when they lead to public disquiet."

Earlier this week, a senior official within the office of Northern Ireland's top judge said it was vital that judges can consider the merits of individual cases independently.

The comments by the Lord Chief Justice's principal private secretary followed criticism about a perceived bias in recent bail decisions.

The first minister and other unionists said there was an image of "double standards".

However, Laurene McAlpine said courts must act without external influence.

Mr Baggot has said all of the PSNI's actions have been impartial and "within the rule of law".

Last week, a senior republican facing IRA membership charges was released on bail, but two union flag protestors were remanded in custody.

Start Quote

I know that there are many who do not share the views articulated by unionists and loyalists but trashing their real fears, concerns and views is no way to stabilise society in Northern Ireland”

End Quote Peter Robinson Northern Ireland First Minister

Mr Robinson has also responded to remarks by the Northern Ireland Office minister Mike Penning on BBC Northern Ireland's Nolan Show on Thursday in which he said he was surprised at the first minister's remarks and that he should produce evidence to support his claims.

The DUP leader said the minister should take the opportunity of "looking at the statistics for public enquiries and the work of the HET (Historical Enquiries Team) for which he bears some responsibility".

Mr Robinson said he would not be silenced on the issue.

"I know that there are many who do not share the views articulated by unionists and loyalists but trashing their real fears, concerns and views is no way to stabilise society in Northern Ireland," he added.

SDLP assembly member Conall McDevitt has called on Mr Robinson to publicly apologise for his comments on the matter, that were made earlier this week.

"The time has come for him to get back to work and stop indulging the anti-agreement elements at the heart of the flag protests who are just interested in destroying the progress made to date and dragging our society back.," he added.

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