Belfast Telegraph

Dissident republicans and power-sharing absence challenges for Northern Ireland policing: Simon Byrne

Northern Ireland’s new Chief Constable Simon Byrne (Niall Carson/PA)
Northern Ireland’s new Chief Constable Simon Byrne (Niall Carson/PA)
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

New PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne has said the ongoing threat from dissident republicans and the absence of power sharing put pressures on his organisation.

Monday will mark Mr Byrne's two weeks in the job since replacing Sir George Hamilton as Northern Ireland's top cop.

He has met with Sinn Fein and will meet with the other political parties over the summer.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, he said his officers were stuck in a catch 22 situation.

He said: "Broadly the narrative is about community policing pretty much in way you see in other parts of England and Wales but we ask them to do that armed all the time and dealing with a severe security threat. It is tricky for them.

"At the same time, the politics here, the absence of devolved government bring a different pressure to the way public policy works.

"That presents its own challenges to the day-to-day running of the PSNI."

While day-to-day policing continued in the medium term the absence of government would have "problems" for the service, Mr Byrne said.

He said setting up an independent legacy investigations unit could be a responsibility for a Stormont administrations and allow his officers to focus on present-day policing.

The police chief said there were still issues with community trust and taking Troubles investigations out of PSNI hands could be represent a "clean break" and help build relations.

On prosecutions of soldiers suspected of Troubles crime he said as a "servant of the law" people had to be held to account but recognised the emotion around the issue.

"If people are alleged to have done wrong in the past, I think everybody needs to be held to account by the legal framework which we are all bound by," he said.

On threat from dissident republicans he said it remained at a "severe" level.

"There are small number of people here, particularly dissident republicans, that are intent on a particular ideology and do present operational challenges and a risk to safety right across Northern Ireland."

He said a lot of the focus of the PSNI was on dissident republican activity but they worked with other agencies to tackle all those proscribed organisations in Northern Ireland.

Referring to the murder of Lyra McKee and the court house car bombing in Derry he said there were a number of communities in Northern Ireland where people had long held "polarised views". 

He said they had success in combating the dissident threat but there was an opportunity in the medium term to use communities as a "weapon" to change minds and attitudes toward the police. 

Mr Byrne added: "This will be a problem we have to address slowly and patiently over the years to come."

Asked about his predecessor Sir George Hamilton's views there was a "deficit in confidence" in communities on the PSNI, he said that could be addressed with a change in policing.

"The information we receive from communities is about tackling low-level crime, anti-social behaviour, being more visible and responsive and improving victim care. And I think if you get that right - alongside other emotive issues such as how we do stop-search, how we recruit, I think that in the medium term will be how we turn around the 'confidence deficit'."

He said they were still "in the dark" on what the Irish border may look like after Brexit in terms of how the UK departed. He said the "worry" was how they police a border as long and with as many crossing.

"History will show us any attempt to clamp down on freedom of movement and goods led to an increase in smuggling and organised crime," he added.

"And clearly there is also a prospect for those same dissident terrorists to fill a vacuum in public emotion by an increase in attack on our officers and other targets."

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