Belfast Telegraph

Medal for every Northern Ireland police officer in recognition of working under terror threat

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne says he is proud of his colleagues
PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne says he is proud of his colleagues
PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne says he is proud of his colleagues
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

PSNI officers are to be awarded with a new service medal in recognition of their work while under a severe terror threat.

Instituted under Royal Warrant, the medal will be given to serving and retired police officers who have completed five years' service from February 25, 2009, the date the terrorist threat level in Northern Ireland was officially raised to severe.

Plans are currently with the College of Arms, the UK's official heraldic authority, and are ready to go to the Royal Mint.

The initial cost of the medal is projected to be £250,000 over two years, with further medals to be awarded as more officers become eligible.

Officers who have been killed in the line of duty, or have had to retire through injury, will also be recognised.

Those expected to receive a posthumous honour include Constable Stephen Carroll (48), who was shot dead by republican terrorists as he responded to a 999 call in Craigavon on March 9, 2009.

Constable Ronan Kerr was just 25 years old when he was murdered in a booby-trap car bomb attack outside his home in Omagh on April 2, 2011. 

Chief Constable Simon Byrne said: "Policing generally is a very challenging profession; however, in Northern Ireland we face unique challenges like no other police service in the United Kingdom.

"Everyday the Police Service of Northern Ireland operates under a 'severe' terrorist threat, on and off duty, but despite this, we continue to deliver a police service in very difficult, demanding and dangerous circumstances.

"I am very proud and humbled by the dedication and professionalism of my colleagues and I am delighted that Her Majesty is recognising their commitment and contribution in this way. It is also a sad time as we reflect on the sacrifice of those who will be awarded the medal posthumously."

The plans have been welcomed by former PSNI deputy chief constable Alan McQuillan who said he knew officers who are still too afraid to tell their own children what their job is.

Mr McQuillan also said his RUC service medal, which was awarded to officers who served for more than three years during the Troubles, means more to him than his OBE.

"Officers really did value getting their RUC medal, that their work was being recognised, because often they didn't get the credit they were due," he said.

"I would strongly support anything that recognises and values that work. It's a small price to pay for what we get from those officers."

He said the daily threat of attack is a constant strain on officers and their families.

"It's not just the security incidents that we hear about. There's so much work going on behind the scenes to stop attacks happening," he said.

"Every time officers go out on patrol they know there's a risk they will be attacked.

"They know there's people out there actively looking for an opportunity to kill them. So there's always that stress even with the most basic call, they have to be thinking 'is this a trap, is this a come on, how do we police this?'

"I think there is a completely different risk and pressure on officers and their families in Northern Ireland."

He added: "I still know officers now who do not tell their children what job they do because they don't want to be identified.

"That's even in places that normally be considered quite benign areas. They're genuinely that concerned about protecting their family as well as their own personal safety."

On the value he places on his own medals, he explained: "I have an RUC service medal and a couple of distinguished service medals as well.

"I've also got an OBE but quite frankly my RUC service medal means far more to me.

"It's a recognition of the things I had to deal with but also the collective work we did. It was about the culture and shared experience and that is the same for officers in the PSNI because they have a lot to put up with."

The PSNI had initially proposed the introduction of a Five-Year Service Medal in 2011, and engaged with the Policing Board, Northern Ireland Office and Department of Justice.

The medal was formally approved by the Policing Board in March 2015, submitted to the Honours & Decorations Committee in 2016 and subsequently approved by The Queen in December 2017.

The PSNI is engaging with families of those police officers who died, or were killed, whilst undertaking to make them aware of the introduction of the service medal and the criteria.

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