06/06/2007

Orde says 'No' to unarmed police force

At the first Policing Board meeting involving Sinn Fein, the PSNI Chief Constable was challenged today by Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey to say when an unarmed police force would patrol in Northern Ireland.

Mr Maskey claimed that it was one of the objectives of the Good Friday Agreement, one that he wanted to see "sooner rather than later" but PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde rebuffed this as a "non-starter".

Sir Hugh said: "Currently my assessment is that we are where we need to be - I have no plans to start removing guns."

Mr Maskey pointed out that almost every officer was armed.

Sir Hugh said that this was not a security issue, but a cultural one as guns were carried for personal protection.

With the arrival of Sinn Fein on the Policing Board many commentators found the exchanges in the public meeting to be low-key, but Mr Maskey later said that much of Sinn Fein's work would be carried out behind closed doors on the committees.

Two of Robert McCartney's sisters expressed their frustration that Sir Hugh would only say that the matter of their brother's murder had been dealt with in a private session of the Board.

Catherine McCartney said she was "disappointed" that the Policing Board could not answer a "straight-forward question" on whether there had been any progress in the investigation.

Other issues considered included the Stevens investigation into security force collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.

(SP/KMcA)

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