Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Reality bites for new PSNI Chief Constable

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne
PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne

Editor's Viewpoint

The new PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has experienced a baptism of fire since taking up his role just a few weeks ago. He found waiting in his in-tray some of the problems that his predecessor Sir George Hamilton had found intractable during his five years in office.

These included dissident republican violence, the unresolved issues from the past, and illegal bonfires.

The Chief Constable's problems have been increased with the much-criticised withdrawal of officers faced with rioting in north Belfast, and the controversial detention of the Clyde Valley Flute Band on their way back to Larne.

Many people's initial sympathies may lie with Simon Byrne. He is finding out that nothing in his career so far could have prepared him fully for the PSNI role, which is undoubtedly the toughest job in UK policing.

In addition to his task of dealing with our ancient Orange and Green enmities, the Chief Constable is in charge of an organisation with 9,200 employees and an annual budget of £800 million.

If the PSNI was a plc, it would be among the biggest in the province.

The "David Brent" management-speak of the advertisement for the Chief Constable's job says volumes. The search for "an exceptional leader with an ability to drive and deliver organisational change", as well as a "strong vision of service delivery to the community" can only have obscured the reality that the job of Chief Constable of the PSNI brings boots-on-the-ground challenges that are undreamt of in any other UK police force.

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Simon Byrne was never going to get even a short honeymoon in his new job, although with hindsight the start date of July at the height of the marching season does seem particularly cruel.

Unfortunately, he inherited a shortfall of 800 officers, and an adverse court ruling over the long-running issue of police holiday pay. His current attempts to make savings in overtime have predictably provoked anger among the rank-and-file.

Hard-pressed officers are regularly required to put themselves in harm's way so that the rest of us can enjoy our relative normality. Therefore they should not become collateral damage in a war of attrition between Simon Byrne's senior managers and their paymasters on the Policing Board.

The Chief Constable enjoys support and understanding, and in many cases gratitude, of all law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland. It would be a considerable tragedy if that was allowed to evaporate.

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