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Tánaiste must become proactive on policing reform as PSNI goes into meltdown – Tóibín

TD Peadar Tóibín has called on the Tánaiste Mícheál Martin to “stop standing idly by as the PSNI goes into meltdown” across the border.

It comes as Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Simon Byrne today resigned from the position after he came under pressure due to a number of controversies.

Last Tuesday, a court ruled that two junior PSNI officers had been unlawfully disciplined after an arrest was made at a Troubles commemoration in February 2021.

The step down after four years in Northern Ireland’s top policing job also follows last month’s revelation of a multiple data breaches, including a leak of 10,000 names of PSNI officers and civilian staff, which were published in error in February as part of a Freedom of Information Request.

Mr Byrne said that the information had made it into the hands of dissident republicans, who could use the list to spread “fear and uncertainty” – with some of the information accessed including the rank or grade of employees, where they are based, and the unit where they work. An independent review is due to be carried out into the breaches.

After Mr Byrne refused to resign following an emergency meeting of the Policing Board late last week, the DUP submitted a motion of no confidence in him – prompting his resignation on Monday.

He said today that it was “now time for someone new to lead this proud and resolute organisation”.

Meanwhile, Aontú leader and Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín said that “dangerous incompetency” was behing the leaks – as he described the force as being in major crisis:

“The PSNI is in major crisis. Dangerous incompetency has led to the private details of 10,000 officers being published putting lives and safety in significant danger. Drug crime is spiralling throughout the North. And the PSNI is still seen in many nationalist areas as a deeply political and partisan force.

“This is in large part behind the current crisis surrounding the two PSNI officers who have been disciplined and the subsequent court case determination which stated that there was a political reason for this action,” Mr Tóibín said on Monday

He continued: “A recent review on policing in south Armagh admitted that policing was militaristic in this predominantly nationalist area. Heavy handed and militaristic policing is the experience of many people in nationalist areas. It is 23 years since the Patten Report was published and still the PSNI is not representative of the people of the north.

“Currently, only 31% of PSNI members are Catholics. Catholic representation among senior levels of the PSNI is even less representative of the population and recruitment of Catholics to the civilian staff is also incredibly low.

“The resignation of Chief Constable Simon Byrne will not go to the heart of the problem. The difficulties of the PSNI go far deeper. There needs to be root and branch reform. This current debacle is the right time to carry this reform out.”

Mr Tóibín said his party wanted to see a reform package whereby 50/50 recruitment was reinstated, along with the establishment of a joint Irish/British Inspectorate and the removal of MI5 from policing. The TD said a “complete overhaul” of policing is needed in order to build a safe society “based on equality and a shared future.”

“The parties of the Assembly including SF and the SDLP have continuously promised change in policing. This has not happened.”

Mr Tóibín said Tánaiste Mícheál Martin had been “silent” on the need for reform:

“The Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement extended an invite on my request to the Chief Constable to attend the committee and answer questions about the crisis in policing. Simon Byrne refused that invitation then. I am calling for the Committee to reissue that invite in view of the current disaster.

“Much of this problem is also down to the political vacuum that exists. There is no Minister for Justice. Indeed if a new Chief Constable were to be nominated by the Policing Board there would be no Minister for Justice in place to accept that nomination as is necessary under the law.

“The two governments are guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. Yet they appear to be sitting on the side-lines. Chris Heaton Harris is like an absentee landlord of old and Mícheál Martin is silent on the issue.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson today said that the resignation of Mr Byrne was “the right thing to do” given the circumstances – as he pledged that his party would work with the Policing Board to deliver policing in a “way which commands cross-community support.”

Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Doug Beattie agreed Mr Byrne had “done the right thing but this was never about just one man.”

Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) Colum Eastwood, however, said confidence in Mr Byrne was “irreparably shattered.”

Meanwhile, Gerry Kelly of Sinn Féin, who is also a member of the Policing Board, said a new chief constable would provide the chance to focus on a police service that “has the confidence of the entire community.”

Addressing the House of Commons today, NI Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris thanked Mr Byrne for his “many years of public service” and indicated he would be introducing legislation to allow for the appointment of a new PSNI boss given the continued power vacuum in Stormont.

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