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PSNI 'in dark' over Brexit because of Stormont stalemate, MPs told

George Hamilton
George Hamilton
Sylvia Hermon
Ian Paisley
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

The Chief Constable has said the PSNI has been left like "an orphan" and he feels "in the dark" as he attempts to prepare the force for Brexit.

George Hamilton painted a grim picture as he told MPs that no one appeared to be in charge of dealing with Brexit-related issues when it came to policing.

He also told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that the ongoing political limbo meant his best staff could be cherry-picked by other forces because there is no mechanism for making permanent appointments in six out of his nine command team.

Lady Hermon described his evidence as "very troubling", while the DUP's Ian Paisley said it "sounds like a shambles".

Mr Hamilton told MPs: "We can't deliver the full business case until we know who is co-ordinating this.

"We do feel a little bit isolated and an orphan in this."

On Brexit, Mr Hamilton said other agencies, such as HM Revenue and Customs and the Border Force, had seen workforce increases in the thousands in preparation for Brexit.

But he added: "With the lack of a nominated person, either a senior official or a minister, to say I'm taking responsibility for co-ordinating all of these difficulties and challenges, operational and strategic and constitutional, around the border issue in the post-Brexit scenario, we feel like we are in the dark around all this.

"We don't have that go to co-ordinator to assist us, to help us navigate our way through it."

He also said police were having to assume dissident republicans, as well as violent and organised crime gangs, would exploit border arrangements, while international terrorists would view it as a gateway to the UK.

And he said those living in border communities could feel their identity was "under threat" - a scenario in the past which had police dealing with public disorder, Mr Hamilton said.

The police chief also told the select committee that he had yet to have a meeting with the Prime Minister about the post-Brexit border and had last met with her in October last year.

"There are so many issues to be dealt with, in such a period of time, that things are not getting the attention they require," he said.

The Chief Constable said the PSNI was 400 officers short of what it needs to deal with current demands. Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin also appeared before the committee and warned if officers had to be deployed to port security the PSNI would have to shut down neighbourhood teams and those targeting organised crime gangs.

Mr Hamilton told MPs the political impasse at Stormont made the service vulnerable to losing its best staff.

He outlined how six of the nine senior command positions would be held by temporary officers after the departure of Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris to An Garda Siochana. Under the law, Mr Hamilton can appoint temporary positions, but it is for the Policing Board to make them permanent.

And the Policing Board needs Stormont up and running in order to be reconstituted and continue its work.

Mr Hamilton said its absence for the past 18 months had had a number of consequences for his £1bn operation and with so many of the top team being temporary staff, it created a "vulnerability" both for them and the PSNI.

While he said their work was of a high standard, they were getting a "wonderful experience" which other organisations would "covet".

Committee chair Andrew Murrison said it appeared the PSNI was reaching a position of  "unsustainability" and it was effectively becoming a "staging post" for officers to advance their careers and improve other police forces.

"It does not add up to an effective police force, does it?" he asked.

Belfast Telegraph


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