The Shooting of a Police Officer in North Belfast

Matter of the Day – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 23rd January 2017.

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Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker 12:00 pm, 23rd January 2017

Mr Doug Beattie has been given leave to make a statement on the shooting of a police officer in north Belfast. This fulfils the criteria set out in Standing Order 24. If other Members wish to be called, they should rise in their places and continue to do so. All Members who are called will have up to three minutes to speak on the matter.

Photo of Doug Beattie Doug Beattie UUP

I am sure that the House will join me in condemning the indiscriminate shooting and attempted murder of a police officer in north Belfast. It was a cowardly act that brings nothing to society and furthers no cause. What it does do is that it inflicts misery on a community that has already suffered so much, and all they want to do is live in peace, as we all do. This attack was carried out by thugs, by criminals, by career terrorists; but let us not think of them as some rogue element, because this attempted murder was rooted in one community or the other. It will have taken months in the planning. There will have been intelligence teams to watch the police and their movements. There will have been somebody who supplied the gun and somebody who supplied the car. There will have been lookouts, and there will have been scouts, not to mention the person who drove the car and not to mention the person who pulled the trigger. In pulling the trigger, he endangered not just the police officers but every single person who was in that forecourt and well beyond. High-velocity rounds are indiscriminate. They will enter the body through muscle and tissue. The round will break bone, and it will keep going. It will ricochet off concrete, it will ricochet off structures, it will penetrate walls, it will penetrate windows, and it will penetrate men, women and children who are in that area.

To spray an area with 24 high-velocity rounds is an absolute and utter disgrace, and it is incumbent on all of us here today — it is good to see all of us represented here today — to have a single and united voice and to watch our language.

We should watch our language and our words because we do not want to raise tensions in our community. We have to be careful about what we say. I want to know where the weapon came from for the shooting yesterday. Was it a new weapon? If so, where did it come from? If it is an old weapon — a decommissioned weapon — I want to know. I also want to know whether anybody involved — it will have taken many people — is on licence, and, if it is proven that they were involved, they should be returned to prison immediately.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

I ask the Member to conclude his remarks.

Photo of Doug Beattie Doug Beattie UUP

I feel that we have failed our country and we need to support the PSNI in the rule of law and order.

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

The event that took place on the Crumlin Road in north Belfast last night was an appalling attempt to murder a police officer or police officers. It is a chilling and terrible reminder of those dark days — some of the darkest days — when such attacks were a regular occurrence in Belfast. It is a reminder of the method that was used and the murderous intent of those who carried out the attack. It is wrong to murder police officers; it is wrong to murder anyone. It was wrong when it was the old IRA doing it years ago, it was wrong when it was the Provisional IRA doing it more recently, and it is wrong today, whatever version of the IRA may be doing it.

Our hope and prayer today should be for the recovery of the wounded officer, and our thoughts are with him and his family. Such an attack on a garage forecourt, where people are milling around — young people, elderly folk, people out and about their business, as well as the intended target — means that anyone could have been cut down and killed on the spot last night. It is reminiscent of the 1970s and 1980s in Belfast. Sadly, there are those around today who want to drag us back to a violent past. In recent months, we have seen an upsurge in violent activity by extreme republican elements. We have seen bomb devices being used and shootings, particularly in west Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland. It is clear that there has been an increased level of activity on top of the ongoing attacks against police officers and prison officers. Fortunately, on this occasion, the intended target was not killed. Fortunately, on the previous occasion of an attack on the Crumlin Road not so long ago, the intended victims were not killed. It is a stark reminder of the responsibility of all of us to make sure that those who are responsible for such attacks are brought before the courts.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

I ask the Member to conclude his remarks.

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

Every support should be given to the police in dealing with those who carry out such murderous attacks.

Photo of Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin

I join, I presume, all other Members in the Assembly, as an elected representative for North Belfast, personally and on behalf of Sinn Féin, in hoping that this young police officer — I understand that he was very young and was a probationer in his early 20s — recovers fully from his wounds. We could easily have been talking about a death today and a family suffering that death instead of, hopefully, the recovery that we will see. As Members said, other people could have been killed or maimed in the open forecourt of a garage. Let me condemn it, absolutely and outright. Let me also say that, as a representative for the area — all representatives for the area will be of one voice on this — the people who vote for us, right across the board, are absolutely opposed to the people involved in this. The people involved are most likely the same people who have attacked their own community, and killed and maimed in that community in the not so distant past in the last number of months. There is a duty on everyone and anyone who has any information that could lead to the apprehension of those involved to bring that forward immediately. I hope that the young man makes a full recovery and that these people know that they should get off the backs of the local community and the overall society to which we belong.

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will speak on behalf of the SDLP and the many constituents who contacted me last night to express their shock and anger at the despicable gun attack on an officer out on duty, trying to serve and protect our community. I add my voice to the unreserved condemnation of that attack, and I urge anyone with any information, no matter how small it may seem, to please pass that on to the PSNI.

I express in the House today my best wishes to and my concern for that police officer. Indeed, last night, when I spoke with his colleagues at local and senior level, I asked that those wishes be passed on and the wishes of the people, many of them in Ardoyne and right across north Belfast, who contacted me last night to ask that I would do that on their behalf.

Many issues divide us in the House, but it is clear today that there is an issue that unites us, and that is our unreserved condemnation of what took place last night. The truth is that violence has no place in our society. All it serves to do is to create heartache, pain and suffering. As each and every one of us in the House knows, there are far too many families in our constituencies who endure that pain and suffering daily. So, I think that it is right that we stand united and send that very strong message to those who were behind the attack last night, but, importantly, to the people right across north Belfast. We will stand against this; we will stand opposed to this; and we will stand up for those who deserve it.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

First, I extend my sympathy and my best wishes to the young officer who was wounded in last night's shooting in north Belfast. I hope that he makes a full recovery, physically and mentally, from the impact of his injuries, and I send good wishes today to him and his family. I also extend my best wishes to his colleagues who were at the scene last night and to those throughout Northern Ireland whose sense of safety has been shaken again as they go about serving our community and securing our safety.

My thoughts are also with the members of the public who were in that garage last night, going about their business when this reckless attack took place. This was not an attack on an individual police officer or an attack on the PSNI; this was an attack on our entire community. It says all that we need to know about the kind of people who were involved that they would attempt to kill a person who is serving their community and do so with such reckless disregard for the community in which they serve. These people are nothing but despicable cowards. They have nothing to offer the people of Northern Ireland. I focus my thoughts and my best wishes on those like the young officer who was affected; those who want to give service to their community and to make it a better place. I send our best wishes to him today.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I am speaking for all members of the Green Party today. I join the calls to condemn the attack that took place last night. I was very shocked, for many reasons, as the news broke last night. I was not long home from my local garage forecourt when I saw the breaking news. That forecourt is not simply a garage; it is also a corner shop for my area. It is where I went for a pint of milk on a Sunday night, and I am sure that many people at the garage last night where the attack happened were doing the same: they were getting milk for the fridge, they were getting food for their children's packed lunches and they were filling up their cars. It is a public area, and there is absolutely no excuse for what took place. It is not heroic to fire a rain of bullets in these circumstances.

It was a terrible attack on a public servant and the wider public. What will be heroic is when that police officer returns to this duties trying to do all that he can to protect our community and make us safer. He will be the hero when he returns to duty. I hope that he makes a full recovery. I wish him all the best.

It is good that all Members in the House can stand in unity against those who want to bring fear and violence into our communities. Thankfully, the officer is in a stable condition, but things could have turned out very differently, either for him or anybody else in the vicinity. The local community are very angry about what has happened. We must continue to work to make sure that it does not happen again.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance 12:15 pm, 23rd January 2017

The futility of yesterday's shooting on the Crumlin Road should be clear to everybody. Nothing can be achieved from carrying out such attacks. People Before Profit is calling for an immediate cessation of all paramilitary actions. No amount of rhetoric can hide the fact that armed struggle is a dead end. We urge those who are involved in these reckless attacks to ask themselves a simple question: what has been achieved? Decades of armed struggle by the Provisional IRA did not end in victory. A much smaller campaign that is carried out today is even less likely to achieve anything. Needless suffering and the imprisonment of another generation of people is all that will result.

Politicians from the establishment parties will queue to take turns to condemn this attack — and they should do, of course — but their words will ring hollow given the millions of pounds that they are funnelling to paramilitary-linked organisations, particularly within loyalism; so, too, will the calls from senior PSNI officials to challenge the scourge of paramilitarism. Was it not only a few months ago that the BBC aired a damning documentary that showed that a cosy relationship between the PSNI and paramilitaries is still alive and well in the new Northern Ireland? There is plenty of condemnation but little consistency from the establishment.

People Before Profit, on the other hand, is consistent in its approach. We want to see an end to all paramilitarism. Attacks like the one on the Crumlin Road will only reinforce division and distract from the pressing need for a united movement that will challenge the corruption and austerity of the establishment.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

My primary thoughts are with the officer who was subjected to this vile attack last night. We wish him well and a full recovery. It is a reminder to us of how the police and security services stand between us and those with murder in their hearts. Although, happily, this officer escaped death, that was not thanks to those who set out patently with murder in their hearts and used weaponry that was most likely to occasion murder even on a mass scale. It is a quite shocking situation, but let it be said that it is no more shocking, no more vile and no more unjustified than the terrorists of the IRA or anyone else who, for years, inflicted such horror; those who, with murder in their hearts, went out and did murder.

I listened today to condemnation from Mr Gerry Kelly, himself a convicted terrorist, who, to this day, has not acknowledged that his terrorism was wrong, unjustified and uncalled for, but rather still honours and glories in, as does his party, those very acts of terror. What does that do today? It does not just speak to their character, but to today's terrorists; gives them succour, provides a crutch for them and causes them to conclude that if it was OK for the Provos, it is OK for them. Until those who represented that previous terrorism acknowledge and renounce it, then that crutch is going to continue to be provided.

I will make one other point. I hope someone — hopefully, more than one person — is made amenable for this crime. I trust that, when they are arrested, they will not be easily, as was the person charged with the attempted murder of David Black, admitted to bail, and that their bail terms will not be made so easy if they are admitted to bail, and they should not be in the first place.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

Will the Member conclude his remarks?

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

There should be no bail for anyone charged with an offence such as this.

Photo of Claire Sugden Claire Sugden Independent

I welcome today's Matter of the Day, and I appreciate Mr Beattie for tabling it. I also welcome the widespread condemnation that has appeared from all sides of this House. Rightly so, because this issue serves to unite us.

I have no doubt that this attack was intended to kill. Thankfully, the officer is in a stable condition, but we could have been hearing about a loss of life this morning. This is not just an attack on our police service; this is an attack on the community and an attack on our country. It was reckless; multiple automatic rounds fired into a public space. I am disgusted.

There remains a continued threat against police officers and prison officers in Northern Ireland. We cannot become complacent, and whilst there is political instability happening in Northern Ireland right now, this threat has continued right through it. Others will see this as an opportunity to take advantage. If I can give a clear message to this Assembly today, it is that we, as elected representatives, can ensure they do not take advantage of that and we do stand united. Whilst I stand here as the representative for East Londonderry, I also have an interest as Justice Minister. I have been keeping in close contact with the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable on this issue.

It is something that does concern me. From the outset of the political instability, I was always concerned that someone would take advantage of it, and I hope this is not an example of that. If we can move forward, we have to move forward in the right space, because we cannot return to the dark days of the past. Today, we should all be condemning this most dreadful incident.

On another note, I want to pay tribute to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Particularly in my experience as Justice Minister, I have seen the hard work that they do. They put their lives on the line every day for us, in the service of the people of Northern Ireland, and we cannot underestimate that. It is cowardly for someone to take an opportunity, as these despicable individuals have done last night, and it is nothing short of disgusting. That is the clear message that we, as a united Assembly, have to send out today.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I join with others in condemning the attack last night — a murderous attack to kill a police officer in my constituency.

Just before 7.30 pm last night I heard the shots, the sirens and then the helicopter. It was very clear that something had seriously gone wrong. I spoke to police, and I started to receive calls from constituents, and I heard very clearly that there had been a shooting at Edenderry filling station on the Crumlin Road.

I visited the site and spoke to some of the officer's colleagues, who were visibly shaken because they had been serving with him only earlier that day. Some of them had lockers beside his in the station. I spoke to constituents who were at the scene. Today, I want to express my revulsion at this attack and send my thoughts to the officer, his family and his colleagues who are so clearly worried at this time.

This is the first shooting of a police officer for eight years in Northern Ireland. It is clearly an attempt by evil people not only to kill police, but also to kill the general public. As others have said, it was totally random and indiscriminate — gunfire into a garage forecourt in a built-up area, with Edenderry Gardens to its left and Edenderry Lofts to its right. Gunfire across a main arterial route in our city, into a forecourt with 12 members of the general public and the police who were there at the time.

This morning, I visited the manager of the petrol station at home. She told me that there were gunshots inches from gas tanks and fuel pumps. We could have been looking at real carnage — not just in terms of the murder that this police officer and his colleagues could well have had to face, but an explosion, from reckless, inhumane, evil people who, frankly, have to be brought to justice and removed from society. No politician and no party — and I am pleased to hear today's debate — should give them any succour, support or credence at any time ever.

There is also clear disruption to business life in north Belfast this morning, although these people do not think about that. There was disruption to that business: it lost last night's trading and, all day today, the garage will remain closed. Traffic chaos ensued on the Crumlin Road this morning.

We must all stand together against violence, intimidation and threats. I am concerned that this sort of violence follows a vacuum that has been created in Northern Ireland and that evil people might fill it. That is a danger that we face and it is a reason why this community — the Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland — is looking for leadership. We must all come together to show these people that they cannot and will not win. The people of Northern Ireland do not want to go back to the bad old days.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

Will the Member conclude his remarks?

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

They want to see Northern Ireland move forward and an end to this evil from evil people.

Photo of Ross Hussey Ross Hussey UUP

I begin by passing my best wishes to the police officer who was seriously injured last night and to his colleagues in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that we will all condemn this murderous attack, which could have resulted not only in the death of a police officer but of civilians, as was highlighted by my colleague Captain Beattie.

This attack was clearly not something that happened on a whim. Throughout the last term of the previous Assembly and this term of the present Assembly, we have had incidents throughout Northern Ireland. In my constituency of West Tyrone, and in the neighbouring one of Foyle, the Police Service of Northern Ireland has recovered many weapons and explosives, all belonging to terror groups that do not have the guts to give themselves a name or, at times, call themselves the "Continuity IRA" or whatever. I have a name for them, and that is "cowards"; that is all they have ever been and all they ever will be.

Twenty-four years ago today, a 21-year-old Royal Ulster Constabulary officer was shot dead in Londonderry. He had his whole life in front of him. Constable Michael Ferguson was done to death by the same sort of individual who tried to kill the police officer last night in Belfast. There is no difference. For all we know, the same weaponry was used. For years, I have been asking the police for information on weaponry that has been recovered and its history. For some reason, that information has never been released. Why? Can that weaponry be traced back to the IRA? Is there a possibility that groups that were IRA took their weaponry with them? Of course there is. That element of collusion between the IRA — the Provisional IRA and the ABCDEFG IRA — is here to today. All that weaponry must be surrendered to the police.

This is my last opportunity to speak to the Assembly. Some of you may be glad to know that I am retiring from politics. I hope that, in the next Assembly, no politician has to stand up and condemn a murderous attack on a police officer. Anyone who is prepared to wear the uniform should get the support of the Assembly.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

Will the Member conclude his remarks?

Photo of Ross Hussey Ross Hussey UUP

I pledge my support to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, incorporating the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC, and I hope that everybody else does.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Last night was a stark reminder of what many of us grew up with in this country and what many of us heard all the time in news reports: murders and attempted murders. First, I wish the police officer well in his recovery; we are thankful that his injuries are not life-threatening.

This has not been a success for those who set out last night. Success for them means the same outcome as happened with Constable Carroll, David Black and Adrian Ismay and, indeed, civilians who have been targeted by the same individuals. What stands as a stark reminder to us all is that, this time 10 years ago, we were discussing with our members and the wider public the outcome of the St Andrews negotiations and whether we should proceed into government with Sinn Féin, which was a hugely difficult decision for us. We took the decision to do so because we did not want to go back; we wanted to go forward.

We are now in a similar circumstance in Northern Ireland, where, perhaps, others have greater problems, but the question that has to be posed is this: are we going to back or are we going to go forward? Instability creates vacuums, and evil people step into those vacuums. I think that it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to commit ourselves to ensuring that we, for all the problems and wrongs of Stormont, continue to provide stability and leadership and continue to be there for the people of Northern Ireland, because we have had the awful, horrible, bloody past that I have had to grow up in, and I do not want my children or grandchildren to grow up in that environment. I want the people who carry out the likes of the shooting last night to be marginalised, sidelined and incarcerated and to serve very long sentences for what they do, not given the opportunity to go out to carry out more of this in the name of Ireland or of any other cause.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker 12:30 pm, 23rd January 2017

I call Mr Trevor Lunn. Mr Lunn, you have two minutes.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

I join everybody else who has spoken in utter condemnation of a cowardly attack on a police officer; attempted murder; bullets sprayed across a petrol station forecourt. I do not think that whoever did this cared whether there was collateral damage, somebody else injured or a gas tank or a fuel explosion. They are indifferent to those kinds of things.

I understand from the media this morning that, 43 years ago, there was an attack on virtually the same spot and two civilians were killed. Now, 43 years on, we are still seeing bullets flying on the Crumlin Road — shot by somebody who, clearly, has a different view of the future of the state of Northern Ireland and has nothing whatsoever to offer our society in terms of progress or sensible thought.

Nowadays, the PSNI can operate with reasonable freedom with regard to their own security. They are able to use petrol stations and takeaways. The reason for that is that they have achieved the confidence of the community, and the community, generally, has accepted that they operate without fear or favour. That actually assists a dissident — if it was a dissident — in being able to mount this kind of attack. I completely agree with Mr Beattie that one person could not have done this on their own. The Chief Constable said the same thing this morning. It has to be a gang; it has to be organised.

I hope that the person or persons responsible can be brought to justice. I pray for the full recovery of the young police officer. I hope that it does not put his colleagues off in any way, and I hope it does not put off other young people who would like to join the force, because that is the last thing we need, and it would be a success for the people who did this.