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Simon Byrne: community policing will be key against dissidents

Role: Simon Byrne with Policing Board’s chair Anne Connolly
Role: Simon Byrne with Policing Board’s chair Anne Connolly
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The PSNI's new Chief Constable has said building community policing will be key in the fight against dissident republican paramilitaries.

Responding to a question from the Belfast Telegraph about how he would deal with the threat, Simon Byrne said: "The threat is real, it is here and now and it is well documented in terms of it being a severe threat.

"I think the long-term answer is about investing wisely and sustainably in community policing,

"I think the route out of this is about all communities understanding that policing is there for everyone's benefit.

"It's about bringing safety to communities and using communities, if you like, as a weapon against terrorism."

Mr Byrne was speaking after a formal swearing in ceremony at the Policing Board's Belfast headquarters.

He said the PSNI was a "unique service with unique challenges" and he was "proud to be sat here with the list of things to do ahead of me".

The new Chief Constable said reintroducing the 50/50 policy to boost Catholic recruitment in the force would be premature.

He explained that he was keen to examine other approaches to increase Catholic recruitment before consideration was given to positive discrimination.

He said he wanted to explore avenues that have paid dividends elsewhere, such as targeted proactive approaches, via email, alerting would-be Catholic officers to recruitment opportunities. Mr Bryne said he hoped to see politicians and serving PSNI officers become "advocates" for policing as a positive career choice.

On leaving the EU, the new Chief Constable said he had been assured that the PSNI was planning effectively for all eventualities, including a hard Brexit.

He would not be drawn on his predecessor George Hamilton's call for a public debate on an amnesty for Troubles crimes, saying: "I'm not qualified to go there yet."

But he called for political support for the introduction of the stalled legacy mechanisms agreed in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement that would see the creation of an independent policing unit to take over Troubles investigations.

An ice hockey fan, Mr Byrne made a sporting analogy on his future policing plans. "It's not where the puck is now, it's where it is going next," he said.

Policing Board chair Professor Anne Connolly said: "In leading the service forward, Chief Constable Byrne's experience will bring a new perspective and focus to the delivery of the policing service.

"The Chief Constable position is challenging, demanding and carries a high profile and we know that there is a lot in the inbox to deal with.

"As a board we are very much looking forward to working with him to tackle the challenges that lie ahead and we wish him well in his new post".

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