‘People want no more dark days’ - PSNI Chief Constable says Derry Culture year can be ‘a beacon’

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott looks through the City of Culture 2013 programme of events with Shona McCarthy, Culture Company, and Chief Inspector Tony Callaghan during his visit to Derry yesterday. (0911PG61)

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott looks through the City of Culture 2013 programme of events with Shona McCarthy, Culture Company, and Chief Inspector Tony Callaghan during his visit to Derry yesterday. (0911PG61)

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Next year’s City of Culture celebrations could help persuade dissident republicans to abandon their campaign of violence, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott has said.

The police chief made the comment during a visit to Derry yesterday when he met those preparing for next year’s events.

During the visit the Chief Constable met with Culture Company Chief Executive Shona McCarthy at Ebrington along with PSNI officers who will be taking charge of the day-to-day security arrangements during the City of Culture.

Mr Baggott acknowledged the threat posed by dissident republicans but insisted his officers will not allow a minority to disrupt what he described as “a fantastic opportunity” for the city.

“We have a hard core of people who want to stop progress and propel us back to the past. There can be no better persuasion against that view than a successful City of Culture,” he said.

“Obviously we have to be careful: it would be wrong to think otherwise. But the people of this city have made it very clear that they do not want to go back to the dark days.

“The City of Culture can be a great beacon. It can send a message that 99 per cent of the people here want to move on. The others have no place here and no mandate,” he added.

The Chief Constable also said the PSNI is prepared to deal with the huge influx of people expected for next year’s events.

“It is our job to keep people safe,” he said. “It is a fantastic opportunity for the city and its people and we will work with others to ensure it is as successful as it can be.

“Of course we have contingency plans in the event of an incident but we always do. We will work with all groups to ensure the safety of others,” he explained.

The North’s top police officer also ruled out asking for help from the British army, as was seen during the Olympic games in London, to help with security during next year’s events.

“We will police this,” he said. “ I won’t be asking the army to assist other than the normal expert technical assistance they currently provide.” He also said police budgets have not been increased to deal with the City of Culture events.

“We haven’t needed an increase. We may move people around the North to meet certain needs but that is something we do anyway.”

Mr Baggott also praised the “passion and enthusiasm” of the people of Derry for the City of Culture celebrations and said that he hopes to attend some events.

“I’m a music lover so hopefully I’ll get to some of the concerts and the Fleadh,” he said.

While in the city, the Chief Constable met with clergy from Glendermott parish and a number of Waterside community representatives.

He also walked across the Peace Bridge en route to Strand Road PSNI station where he met with police officers who will be involved in policing events during 2013.