Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Good luck Mr Byrne, you'll surely need it

Just a few hours after Simon Byrne formally became the new Chief Constable of the PSNI, councillors in Belfast made his job a little bit harder
Just a few hours after Simon Byrne formally became the new Chief Constable of the PSNI, councillors in Belfast made his job a little bit harder

Editor's Viewpoint

Just a few hours after Simon Byrne formally became the new Chief Constable of the PSNI, councillors in Belfast made his job a little bit harder. They voted to take legal action against the Department for Infrastructure over its refusal to take down paramilitary flags and banners from lampposts.

If the court finds in their favour, then police obviously will have to assist in the removal of these emblems and deal with any disturbances which could ensue.

Mr Byrne said before the vote was known that common sense and dialogue was the way to deal with the contentious issue of flags, but both those are in short supply when it comes to the provocative erectoin of paramilitary emblems.

This was a sharp reminder to the new Chief Constable that the occupant of his office faces unique challenges.

He is an advocate of community policing, like former head of the PSNI Sir Matt Baggott, but likewise Mr Byrne may find that community support is not as forthcoming on all occasions as it would be in England.

Mr Byrne's hope that he can use nationalist community support as a weapon to defeat dissident republicans is sincerely held, but it does not take into account both the historic suspicion of that community and, more pressing, the con sequences of being labelled a tout. The brutality of dissidents and loyalist paramilitaries enables them to hold their respective communities to ransom, even if they are relatively small in number.

The new Chief Constable is hugely experienced in policing, but even he realises the difficulties he faces. Quite rightly, he wants an independent policing unit to take over legacy inquiries, taking that burden away from an already hard-pressed force.

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He has to wrestle with the recent court judgment over back pay, which could cost the PSNI £40m from an already shorn budget, consider whether a 50/50 recruitment process is the best way to increase the number of Catholics in the force, and the consequences of Brexit.

He will face a sharp learning curve to come to terms with these challenges and few would envy inheriting his in-tray. Fortunately, the once contentious marching season has become relatively quiet in recent years, but Northern Ireland has a history of events taking on a life of their own and Mr Byrne's response to any crisis will be carefully examined. We wish him well in an onerous task.

Belfast Telegraph

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