Belfast Telegraph

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne defends Crossmaglen assault rifle tweet admitting it 'caused some emotion'

Chief Constable Simon Byrne
Chief Constable Simon Byrne
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has defended his Christmas Day visit to a republican heartland after tweeting an “offensive” photo of himself alongside two heavily armed officers.

Mr Byrne had been criticised after posting the photograph with officers carrying assault rifles at Crossmaglen PSNI Station.

He wrote: “On Christmas morning great to meet the team policing Crossmaglen @PSNINMDown. I take my hat off to colleagues policing such a unique part of @PoliceServiceNI.

“Their sense of duty & optimism is inspiring. Stay safe and thank you."

Among those who slammed the social media post was Slieve Gullion SDLP councillor Pete Byrne who said: “While many families across south Armagh were waking up, opening presents and enjoying their Christmas morning, they were hurt and offended to see a Twitter post from the PSNI Chief Constable, featuring officers with heavy weaponry on show.

“This isn’t an ill-judged tweet, the wording appears to be a deliberate attempt to set Crossmaglen and south Armagh as a place apart.

“A lot of work has been done in recent years to build community relations with the PSNI locally. An example would be the co-operation between the PSNI and Crossmaglen Community First Responders to assist with callouts.

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“While we all appreciate police officers and other emergency services working on Christmas Day, questions must be asked about the nature of this post.

“Language and images like this flies in the face of the positive work that has been achieved.

“I have sought an urgent meeting with the Chief Constable to explain.”

Sinn Fein Assemblyman Conor Murphy also criticised the Chief Constable’s post.

The Newry and Armagh MLA said: “On Christmas morning, as the community in south Armagh were celebrating the festivities, Chief Constable Simon Byrne posed with heavily armed members of the PSNI at Crossmaglen Police Station.

“Further, in the text of the social media post the Chief Constable stated that policing in this area was “unique” for the PSNI.

“This post by the Chief Constable is offensive to the local community and utterly unacceptable. It has only served to further undermine the public confidence in the PSNI within south Armagh.

“The heavily armed officers posing with the Chief Constable is reflective of the militaristic style of policing that the community in south Armagh has had to endure in recent years.

“This community is no different to any other, any attempt to differentiate the style of policing has not and will not be tolerated.

“As new Chief Constable, Simon Byrne should have sought to address issues which have eroded the local community’s confidence in the PSNI in South Armagh, but this escapade has shown an intention to do anything but.

“We need a new chapter for policing in south Armagh.

“We need an end to fortress police stations, heavily armed officers and poor response levels.

“We need a police service that serves the interests of this community in an efficient, effective and respectful manner.

“This community not only deserves nothing less, but will accept nothing less.”

In a statement on Thursday evening Mr Byrne has acknowledged that his tweet “has caused some emotion”.

He said: “This was a visit by me on Christmas Day to support local officers who do work in unique and often difficult circumstances.

“The officers are carrying weapons and, sadly, this is the stark reality of the policing environment they work in, tackling the severe terrorist threat.

“This is no reflection on the local community who work daily with their local police officers to create a safe community.

“There is no doubt that much progress has been made in the towns and villages of South Armagh and my Christmas Day visit to officers who are working really hard to contribute to this progress is an indication of my commitment to build safer communities and tackle the terrorist threat.

“I look forward to meeting with community and political representatives to discuss how we can move forward together and I look forward to a time when we no longer have to police in such a high security environment.”

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