Full Time Police Reserve Kept On

Just hours after scathing criticism of the North's police over their response to a bomb attack along the border, it has emerged that over 200 full-time reserve PSNI officers are to be "retained for the foreseeable future".

The move came after Stormont First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said yesterday: "I was massively concerned about the slow response to the recent attack (in Newtownhamilton). The public expects the police to be there when there are difficulties that have to be faced."

While he said it was for PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott to decide whether more money or manpower were necessary to fight the terror threat, his concerns added weight to a call by the Chairman of the Police Federation, Terry Spence, who said the PSNI's lack of resources means Northern Ireland is "sleepwalking" back into violence.

He commented after a police barracks at Newtownhamilton was attacked for the second time in a fortnight and the fire service was forced to evacuate people after a crew arrived hours ahead of the police.

Mr Spence said police were "embarrassed" by how long it took to respond and called for a review of manpower level

The news of the retention of the Reserve officers represents a major 'U-turn' as both Sir Hugh Orde, the previous PSNI boss, and Mr Baggott had insisted that full implementation of the Patten recommendations on policing be carried through.

The axing of the Reserve was also a key demand from both nationalist and republican politicians, keen to see any semblance of the former Royal Ulster Constabulary consigned to history.

However, the SDLP Policing Spokesperson and West Belfast Westminster candidate Alex Attwood has insisted that the decision "should not be exaggerated, particularly for political advantage".

"All that has been decided is that 200 full time reservists will have policing duties up until March 2011," he said, playing down previous SDLP opposition to the officers' retention.

"The real issue is the response to the dissident threat," he said noting "it also extends to the Republic of Ireland where dissidents may plan or organise their activities".

"Every citizen on the island should report to the Garda and PSNI any information they may have. This is the surest deterrent to dissident activity," the politician said.

The news of the likely retention was revealed by the DUP's Ian Paisley Jnr who said Chief Constable Matt Baggott confirmed the decision at a landmark Policing Board meeting on Monday, called to discuss the measures being taken to tackle the upsurge in the dissident republican campaign.

"He confirmed that he is going to be retaining the full-time reserve for additional months to get through the present time," said Mr Paisley.

"It is expected that full-time reserve officers are going to be kept on indefinitely in four districts.

"Their leaving has been put on pause because of the deteriorating security situation.

"I am also very, very pleased that the £6 million needed to keep the reserve on indefinitely has also been ringfenced."

As yet the move remains unconfirmed but a PSNI spokesman said: "The last few months has seen a considerable escalation of terrorist activity as well as a continued determination to murder both police officers and members of the public.

"As a police service we continually monitor our response to attacks and review our capabilities to disrupt the activities of these groupings."

Just last November, the then newly installed PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott confirmed he would be phasing out of the Full Time Reserve, as planned.

Speaking less than six months ago, he added: "I recognise that there is an ongoing threat from dissident republican terrorists and would seek to reassure both the public and officers that their safety will always be a priority."

But, in response to this announcement, DUP NI Policing Board Member Jimmy Spratt said: "It appears to fly in the face of simple logic to have the Chief Constable recommending NI should have fewer police officers when there is an obvious need for more."

See: Police Reserve Axe Debated

See: Fire Service Clear Border Bomb Area


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