PSNI review: PSNI chief faces Policing Board amid memorial row

The PSNI chief constable is due before the policing board later amid a backlash from unionist parties over a review of policing in south Armagh.

There have been fresh calls for Simon Byrne to resign following the publication of the review.

It contained 50 recommendations including the closure of Crossmaglen police station within five years.

It also recommended “exploring” the relocation of police memorials in south Armagh stations.

However, on Wednesday evening, Mr Byrne released a statement saying there would be no removal of memorials to murdered officers “from any operational stations.”

But he said if the plan to close Crossmaglen station went ahead, the issue of a memorial within the building would have to be addressed.

“This will be handled properly and with sensitivity in consultation with the families of those murdered,” he said.

Following the meeting, the chief constable is due to have talks with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

The DUP leader said on Wednesday he would explain to the chief constable “why I believe that he has lost the confidence of unionists across Northern Ireland and I want to say to him what, I believe, that means for his position.”

Sir Jeffrey’s party colleague, Economy Minister Gordon Lyons, has called on Mr Byrne to resign, as has the TUV.

Simon Byrne will face his unionist critics on the Policing Board today, hoping to defuse a row which has left him facing renewed calls to resign.

The chief constable intends to resist pressure to quit.

Unionist parties are angry at some of the 50 recommendations contained in the 170-page report.

A particular focus of criticism is “exploring” the relocation of memorials to murdered police officers in south Armagh stations and looking at some joint patrolling with An Garda Siochana.

Mr Byrne intends addressing other criticisms in detail when the board meets in public session on Thursday.

The DUP has previously called for the chief constable’s resignation over the PSNI’s handling of the Bobby Storey funeral last year.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie, who served in Crossmaglen in the 1980s and 1990s, said the report was a “PR disaster”.

However, Finance Minister Conor Murphy of Sinn Féin, defended the report, saying it was about “building a better relationship with the community”.

“If there are problems in unionist areas, do what we did, go and engage with the PSNI, articulate those problems, have them engage with the community and come up with solutions,” said the Sinn Féin MLA for Newry and Armagh.

“There are over 50 recommendations in the report. At the core of it is building a better relationship with the community, of dealing with issues like response times, like access to policing.”

The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the leaders of political unionism should not be making resignation calls.

Justice Minister Naomi Long said other political parties should “move back” from calls for Mr Byrne to resign.

The chairperson of the RUC George Cross Widows’ Association, Thelma Corkey, welcomed the statement from Mr Byrne confirming that there would be no removal of memorials to murdered police officers.

However, she said she would be sending a letter on behalf of her members to the chief constable to “express her concerns about the hurt and annoyance his comments have caused among RUC widows”.

 

 

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