TOP cop Matt Baggott referred to the plight of staff at the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) and post offices in Londonderry after a letter bomb was posted to the former on Monday (October 28).
Briefing the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Tuesday (October 29) - the day another letter bomb was intercepted on its way to Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers - he said: “I would also add my own very personal accolades to the mail service for the people who do the screening.
“We forget just how often others are put in the front line, and I thank them for their efforts as well in the past few days, not just personally but on behalf of colleagues and others who have received threats.”
The PSNI Chief Constable told members of the committee that the PSNI remains under “significant stress” as a result of the threat from violent republicans as well as from the strain placed on the PSNI by the ongoing flag and parading disputes.
He told members: “The threat from dissident republican groups remains severe, and the police and prison officers remain the key target of that.
“You will be aware that today we have had the fourth in a sequence of attacks through the post. We will put all of our investigative effort behind that to bring those responsible to justice.
“However, that is just one of a sequence of events ranging from mortar attacks, shooting attacks, under-car booby trap attacks we have suffered in the last 12 months.
“The number of national security attacks has dropped slightly, but the threat and the possibility of loss of life remains severe, and we are ever mindful of that.”
Despite the threat the Chief Constable told the committee the dissidents were on “the back foot.”
“Across the island of Ireland, we are managing at least a terrorist charge a week at the moment. That does not give me any sense of pleasure, because it remains a fact that the threat is constant, but we are having significant disruptive and investigative success. However, it is very important that that level of suppression and disruption be not diminished in any shape or form,” he said.
An entirely different source of pressure is that posed by public disorder associated with parading and flag disputes.
Back in January the Vice-Chair of the Northern Ireland Police Federation, Mark Lindsay, told the same committee some officers were on the verge of burn out due to unsustainable hours worked, partly to deal with the flag protests.
On Tuesday (October 29) the Chief Constable said 500 people have been prosecuted or reported to the PPS this year alone and 50 police officers have been hospitalised since last summer (2012).
“517 people to date this year have either been prosecuted or reported to the PPS for prosecution. It is sad that we are over the 500 mark, but that number will increase significantly as well.
“Since last summer, we have had over 50 police officers require hospital treatment and hundreds more holding the line have been injured. That is a price nobody wants to pay. Fortunately, nobody has been very badly hurt, although every single police injury is serious,” he said.