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Northern Ireland's £5.7m cost of marching season

Unionist and republican politicians have clashed after it was revealed £5.7 million was spent on policing the marching season.

Figures on parades released by the Policing Board showed nearly half the police service, 3,134 officers, were on duty at the height of the marching season on July 12.

The costs of the policing operations showed £5.2 million was spent on security around loyalist marches during the summer, while £255,000 was spent around republican parades.

The DUP blamed the cost on nationalist resident groups opposing marches by organisations such as the Orange Order and Apprentice Boys.

But Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said the costs should be blamed on the Orange Order, which rejected legislation framed to deal with the relatively small number of contentious parades.

DUP Policing Board spokesman Robin Newton said: "With the ongoing efforts by police to thwart dissident republican terrorists it is vital that the very best use is made of scarce resources within the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland).

"The vast majority of parades in Northern Ireland take place without any controversy and indeed 30% of parades can take place with no PSNI support.

"It is deeply unfortunate however that cultural intolerance displayed through the opposition to some other parades imposes such a huge cost on the public purse."

Mr Kelly said: "Dialogue is the simple solution to what is basically just a small number of parades out of over 3,000 that take place each year yet the only group who have not stepped up to the mark are the the Orange Order.

"With almost 70% of parades being from the loyal orders there is an onus for them to resolve those with which there are difficulties.

"The agreement over the future of parading reached last year at the Executive produced a legislative way forward, however, yet again, the Orange Order blocked its acceptance.

"Since the start of the peace process the Orange Order has failed to play a positive and constructive role in moving our society forward and showing leadership. This policing bill cannot be distanced from that failure."

He added: "If everyone sits down round the table on an equal basis then these few contentious parades can be resolved if there is a will there to do it."

Chairman of the board's Human Rights and Professional Standards Committee Conall McDevitt said: "Whilst policing costs are broadly similar to those of previous years these figures are still shocking. Given current pressures on the policing budget and the public purse I have no doubt the wider community will share the concerns of board members on this issue."