Tensions over PSNI’s public relations efforts

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Sinn Féin and Saoradh have clashed over the cancellation of a police ‘youth engagement’ event in Derry following criticism by the hardline republican political party.

Saoradh said it had been contacted by a number of concerned parents of children taking part in the event in Derry’s Guildhall “with the facilitation of British Crown Forces”.

“Pro-establishment parties and those within the Catholic Church would have us believe that Crown Forces are a normal part of our community,” Saoradh said.

“The only action these thugs take part in within our communities is the harassment and intimidation of the nationalist and republican people.”

The sinister involvement of British Army and RUC/PSNI in the activities of schoolchildren has long been a contentious issue across the North.

Local Saoradh representative, Paddy Gallagher, said children were being constantly harassed, intimidated, stopped and searched and even having their homes raided by British forces.

He said: “It is of our opinion that youth clubs should be a neutral environment for children to flourish, develop and associate with their peers, not to be used as a political mechanism to adopt a broader acceptance of so called policing and normalisation within the Six Counties.”

After the youth club agreed to not take part in the planned event, Sinn Fein said the ‘forced cancellation’ was ‘entirely unacceptable’.

“It is disgraceful that a youth organisation seeking to provide a positive platform to young people should be forced to cancel it due to the actions of Saoradh,” they said.

“The fact that Saoradh refused to even engage with the youth club is typical of their failure to rationalise or defend their own actions.

“They should withdraw the threat to protest and allow the youth club to get on with the positive work they are doing within this community every day of the week.”

The incident is the latest in a public relations battle between the PSNI and Saoradh. Others have seen heated attacks on Saoradh by the PSNI’s publicity staff using social media

Saoradh said it was taking legal action after a string of defamatory posts by an anonymous PSNI Sergeant were directed at the organisation and their Newry representative Stephen Murney on Facebook.

Mr Murney’s legal representative, Darragh Mackin, from Phoenix Law stated, “It isn’t, and can never be, acceptable for the PSNI to use social media as a tool to attack and defame individuals and their political beliefs.

“Such attacks are a fundamental attack on our clients right to freedom of expression and as such we have made a complaint with the police ombudsman and have initiated legal action.”

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