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Coronavirus: Important to keep perspective, says police chief after Byrne calls for detention powers

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PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne

A senior police officer has said it is important to "keep perspective" in the coronavirus outbreak after Chief Constable Simon Byrne suggested those unwilling to self-isolate could be detained.

Chief Superintendent Sam Donaldson said the PSNI is in discussions with Government officials on what measures may be necessary to tackle an outbreak in Northern Ireland.

It comes after Chief Constable Simon Byrne called for powers of detention available to police in England and Wales to be extended to Northern Ireland.

“It is important to make preparations but it also important to maintain perspective in the face of this challenge," Chief Superintendent Sam Donaldson said on Friday in an attempt to clarify the Chief Constable's comments.

"While we are not anticipating a worst-case scenario, we are preparing for it, as the community would want us to do.

"Any action undertaken by police in response to Covid-19 will be in line with our legal responsibilities and will be used to protect life and keep our communities safe.”

As of Friday afternoon 163 people had tested possible for the virus in the UK, three in Northern Ireland, with two deaths linked to the disease.

In total 186 people have been tested in Northern Ireland, with 183 negatives.

Emergency powers proposed by the Prime Minister would allow police to "compulsorily detain affected people" who are unwilling to quarantine themselves to stop them spreading the virus.

While we are not anticipating a worst-case scenario, we are preparing for it Police

"We don't yet have that power so we're in a dialogue with the Department of Justice to see if that can be replicated here in case we need to use it," the Chief Constable told a Policing Board meeting on Thursday.

Chief Superintendent Sam Donaldson added: "We are working with our partners across Government to support the response to Covid-19 Coronavirus. This is a rapidly developing situation and we continue to take a lead from the Government and our Public Health partners.

“In answering a number of questions on Covid-19 at the Policing Board yesterday, the Chief Constable talked about powers available to police officers in England and Wales that could be used if required to support public health agencies reduce the spread of Covid-19.

"Similar powers are currently not available in Northern Ireland. Discussions are ongoing with the Government officials in relation to what may be required of policing in Northern Ireland."

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Alan McQuillan

Alan McQuillan

PA

Alan McQuillan

Former PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Alan McQuillan said the powers may be necessary as there will be some people "who heed sensible advice and some who will not".

He cited the example of someone suspected of having coronavirus attempting to force their way into a hospital to see an ill relative who has the virus.

"Police need the powers to help health professionals in those sorts of circumstances," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show.

"It has to be done in the context of yes the rights of that individual, but also in terms of the rights of other people who could be intensely vulnerable and could be infected by this individual and maybe even get to the point where in a very few cases where they could get very ill or die. "

Doug Beattie

UUP Justice spokesperson Doug Beattie said that his party supported the PSNI having the same powers as police in the rest of the UK.

“This would relate to a situation whereby a person suspected of having coronavirus refused to follow the instructions of the Public Health Agency. This is a matter of public safety," the Upper Bann MLA said.

“We cannot have these powers in one part of the United Kingdom and not another. Indeed I would be very surprised if the Irish Republic is not thinking along very similar lines.”

Belfast Telegraph