Belfast Telegraph

Ex-Assistant Chief Constable says Byrne 'is being honest' over threat that officers face

Praise: Alan McQuillan
Praise: Alan McQuillan

By David Young

A former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable backed Simon Byrne's Christmas Day tweet from Crossmaglen police station - and praised him for his honesty.

Mr Byrne had been criticised after posting a photograph with officers carrying assault rifles.

In a statement Mr Bryne acknowledged his tweet "caused some emotion".

Alan McQuillan, who served in Crossmaglen, said the PSNI is trying hard to be a community-based police force.

"The bottom line is that there are parts of this community where they still have to patrol in this way," he said.

"Things have dramatically improved from what it was in Crossmaglen, but they still have to patrol using those weapons - because of the threat to the lives of the officers.

"I don't think we should try to hide that.

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"I think we have to be honest about that, because it's up to all sections of the community - and that includes, in my view, the nationalist community as well - have to realise that these are their police officers, and their police officers are forced to do this because of some people in the community."

Recalling his time as a police officer in the border village, Mr McQuillan said: "At the peak of the Troubles, when I was working there, there were many people who wouldn't speak to you - and there were many people who were simply afraid to speak to you.

"I have walked down the Blaney Road in Crossmaglen and walked past a woman who whispered 'God Bless you, son' to me as I walked past.

"There are people there who never supported the violence, and who don't want it in their community.

"Those are the people who really need the services of a police force that can operate freely in that area.

"We're not there yet - but we're a long way down the road."

Mr McQuillan praised the PSNI Chief for his honesty.

"I think what's shocking for some people is that we have a Chief Constable who is prepared to be honest.

"I don't always agree with some of the things he has said, but he is honest in saying them - and I think that is something we should really value."

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