THE cost of policing the Union flags protests in Northern Ireland and resulting public disorder has hit the £20 million mark.
The figure was revealed at the monthly meeting of the Policing Board by the Assistant Chief Constable for Urban Region Will Kerr.
He told members that the figure covered the three months of loyalist demonstrations which have taken place since December.
Protests and public disorder erupted on December 3 after Belfast city councillors voted by 29-21 to fly the Union flag at City Hall on designated days..
The board also heard that 213 people have now been arrested, with eight out of ten already known to police, as part of Operation Dulcet which was set up to investigate illegal protests and rioting.
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott described the expenses as a “waste” of resources.
Breaking down the costs, he continued: “£11m of that has been new money that we have had to provide, the rest has been (the cost of) police officers’ time not being spent on the things that matter. I think that it’s a sadness.
“That money should have been spent on tackling drug dealers, it should have been spent on officers patrolling in the heart of our most disadvantaged areas, it should have been spent on people trafficking, it should have been spent on new technology, it’s been wasted dealing with disturbances and disorder that should never have happened in the first place.”
The meeting comes after unionist politicians publically raised concerns over what they called a “perceived unfairness” in the policing of the flag protests.
Mr Baggott has strongly denied those accusations.
While the street protests have continued into March, the violence which followed some of the earlier demonstrations appears to have calmed.
Officers from the PSNI’s Operation Dulcet inquiry team are continuing to investigate offences linked to the flags dispute.
The Belfast Chamber of Commerce said the protests had cost Belfast city centre traders £15 million in lost business.