An extra 1,000 police are needed to combat the North's growing terror threat, rank and file officers warned today.
The threat from dissident republicans and other paramilitaries risks undermining the country’s bid for more tourists and more investment, Police Federation chairman Terry Spence added.
He said 50/50 recruitment of Catholics could continue to fill the void and tackling the security situation should take priority over other parts of the justice system.
There have been more than 90 terrorist incidents since the beginning of the year, according to the organisation head. Yet the federation’s annual conference near Belfast heard ministers were deluded about the gravity of the threat and persisting in running down the Full-Time Reserve, dismantling the intelligence networks and defortifying barracks.
Mr Spence said: “These hasty and indeed costly decisions were taken by people dazzled with the excitement of devolution.
“They were determined to see a new horizon of peace. Where they saw peace, most of us, who have lived and policed here, saw only an illusion and tried to tell them so but to our cost, they claimed to know better.
“Those who have come to serve in the North should recognise the centuries-old nature of the divisions which plague our communities. Those divisions remain deep-seated.”
Policing and justice powers were devolved to the North's Assembly in April and David Ford appointed the first Justice Minister.
He was in the audience at the conference near Comber, Co Down, which was attended by over 170 delegates and representatives of UK, Ireland and other international police associations.
Since the beginning of the year there have been eight bomb and 15 gun attacks.
In January Constable Peadar Heffron was seriously injured by an under-car booby trap bomb.
Since then there have been a further 50 bombing incidents and 21 gun attacks including three officers shot and wounded during serious rioting in north Belfast.
More than 80 officers have been injured during rioting orchestrated by dissidents. More than 30 officers have applied for emergency re-housing because of threats to their lives and those of their immediate families.
In Kilkeel last month only the caution of a young officer prevented both her and her seven-year-old daughter from being severely injured or killed by another under-car booby trap bomb.
This is on top of the dissident killings of two young soldiers, Sappers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey, and Pc Stephen Carroll last year.
Mr Spence added: “The unpalatable truth is that we as serving police officers and even retired officers are back to examining the underside of our vehicles again. It is with an enormous sense of having been here before that we have deep concerns for our safety and even more so for that of our families.
“What makes this issue more frustrating for the federation is the capacity for self -delusion amongst ministers and politicians.”
Fifty-four people have been charged with terrorism offences since the beginning of the year.
Mr Spratt said the Police Service of Northern Ireland was already under extreme pressure and alarm bells should be ringing at the Executive.
He added the threat must be addressed before the 2012 Titanic anniversary and Derry’s City of Culture year in 2013.
“If we do not we could end up being judged internationally as an economic and tourist write off,” he added.
“Minister, let me leave you in no doubt. We are rapidly approaching a stage which can either become the point of no return or the opportunity to be seized which will end a terrorist campaign before it gets fully under way.”
He said the extra 1,000 officers could come from a mixture of the existing police reserve and the rest through recruitment, which has been frozen.