Children not being used as pawns in fight against terrorism, says police chief
Chief Constable Simon Byrne faced a backlash over comments suggesting parents who used guns could have their children taken into state care.
Children are not being used as weapons or pawns in the fight against terrorism, Northern Ireland’s police chief said.
PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne said he was not threatening parents with the removal of their youngsters.
He has faced a backlash in some quarters over comments suggesting those who used guns could have their children taken into state care.
Mr Byrne told the Policing Board: “I would not want the message to go out that I am trying to hold the Sword of Damocles over parents.”
The Chief Constable’s remarks about taking children away from their parents and their homes are unacceptable Gerry Kelly
Sinn Fein Policing Board member Gerry Kelly urged him to withdraw his remarks.
He said: “The Chief Constable’s remarks about taking children away from their parents and their homes are unacceptable.
“The safety and welfare of children must always be paramount, they can’t be used as pawns in a wider strategy to ‘deter’ paramilitaries in their anti-community activity.”
Mr Byrne made his original comments during a policing conference on children in Belfast earlier this week.
He said a range of measures could be taken against paramilitaries, including seizure of their homes and cars, while their children could be taken into state care.
On Thursday, the senior officer said his remarks were never intended to suggest that young people should be used as pawns in the fight against terrorism and added he would not apologise.
He said: “There will be occasions in investigations, for example in a search warrant, where officers will see things that cause concern about the safety and wellbeing of a child, and I was trying to remind officers that there are powers they can use.”
He said his original soundbites had caused a distraction but he had not intended to describe a blanket policy.
Mr Byrne also announced an increase in the number of officers deployed in neighbourhood policing roles.
One will be assigned to each district electoral ward, with additional capacity for areas requiring prioritisation.
Half the posts will be funded through EU exit-related money and the rest will involve re-prioritisation of officers from existing areas.
Research carried out for organisations like Cooperation Ireland has pointed to a fall in the level of co-operation with police in some nationalist areas.
Detectives believe not enough people have come forward to give information about the Lyra McKee murder by dissident republicans.
Mr Byrne added: “The 400 neighbourhood officers will provide us with a great opportunity to focus on our future and deliver additional resources to improve policing within the community.”