12 September 2023, The Tablet

Chief constable resignation shows ‘crisis’ in PSNI, says Catholic guild

The Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin met Simon Byrne on 16 August to discuss concerns about the data breach.

Chief constable resignation shows ‘crisis’ in PSNI, says Catholic guild

Simon Byrne pictured on 14 August after it emerged that dissident republican had accessed the details of PSNI employees revealed in a data breach.
PA Images / Alamy

Simon Byrne, the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), resigned last week in the wake of a series of data breaches and amid controversy over the policing of republican and loyalist gatherings.

The PSNI’s Catholic Police Guild said in a statement that these events and Byrne’s resignation “have put policing in Northern Ireland into crisis, and that is deeply regrettable”.

Byrne resigned on 4 September following a court ruling that the service had unlawfully disciplined two officers who detained an attendee at a republican commemoration in 2021, in order to placate Sinn Féin and keep the party from dropping its support for the PSNI.

However, this ruling followed weeks of demands for Byrne’s resignation after a data breach on 8 August revealed the names of 10,000 PSNI employees online for a number of hours.  The PSNI confirmed that the list of names was accessed by dissident republicans.

The Catholic Police Guild said that the data breach posed “particular difficulties” for Catholic officers.

Sgt Eoghan O Conraoi, a former member of the guild’s committee, told The Tablet that many Catholic officers do not disclose their employment in their community, particularly in settings such as churches and Gaelic Athletic Association clubs.

He said that recruitment of officers from these backgrounds was already in severe decline since the end of the “50/50” policy – where a Catholic recruit was sought for every new Protestant or loyalist officer – which was used when the PSNI was formed from the dissolved Royal Ulster Constabulary in 2001.

O Conraoi warned that any direct consequences of the data breach for officers could have a terminal effect on Catholic recruitment.

The Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, met Byrne on 16 August to discuss his concerns about the data breach.  The archbishop afterwards stated his “unequivocal support for those who serve as police members or civilian support workers for the PSNI”.

“I have previously encouraged young people from the Catholic community to consider a career in policing.  Today I reiterate this sentiment,” he said.

“For that reason I also call on everyone in the community to reject entirely those who would intimidate or threaten the courageous women and men – including those from the Catholic community – who selflessly choose this noble vocation of policing.”

Following Byrne’s resignation, the Catholic Police Guild’s chair Supt Gerry Murray said that the “crisis” offered “an opportunity to forge a path of real change”.

“What is required now is new Independent Police Review, led by policing and criminal justice experts from outside Northern Ireland, who can undertake a complete review of all policing structures,” he said.

“An effective and independent review can safeguard the wins made in policing over the last 25 years, and secure them for the future.”

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