Riots save RUC from cutbacks

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The Independent Online
Major planned cutbacks in the Royal Ulster Constabulary have been put on hold because of the recent unrest in Northern Ireland.

The 13,500 officers in the force were told at the weekend by the police authority that their jobs were safe for the foreseeable future.

With the IRA ceasefire entering its 11th month, there were fears of big cuts in police strength across the province. However, the rioting, hijacking and arson attacks sparked by the release of Private Lee Clegg and confrontations with Orangemen in Portadown and Belfast haveprevented any early cutbacks.

David Cook, chairman of the police authority, said in a statement yesterday that recent events had placed a huge burden on the force. It was "too early" to even consider any reduction in RUC numbers, he said.

The RUC last week admitted its resources were strained to almost breaking point with cadets drafted in to relieve the 1,000 RUC men sent to Portadown. The Army confirmed that hundreds of soldiers had been redeployed in readiness to help the RUC if civil unrest had worsened in the run-up to 12 July.

Mr Cook said the right level of RUC manpower could not be decided until the sectarian divisions were resolved. "These events are also a reminder that it is a mistake to attempt to settle on what might be the correct number of police offices until the issues which divide this society are addressed in a realistic fashion by the community at large and its political representatives," he said.

His statement came two days after Northern Ireland's Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, praised the force's "magnificent performance" over the past fortnight. In a 10-day period from 3 July police officers were attacked 150 times, and 83 officers and 43 civilians were injured. More than 100 petrol bombs were thrown, while 147 plastic bullets were fired, and 117 people were arrested.