The new PSNI chief Simon Byrne has had a controversial start to his period as head of policing in the north of Ireland as he oversaw the isolation of a nationalist community in east Belfast in order to facilitate a sectarian parade.
Byrne was present during a major policing operation ahead of a parade by the anti-Catholic Orange Order on Monday evening during his first day in the job. In a number of tweets, he described the PSNI barricade as “great and outstanding work”
Byrne has taken over from George Hamilton, who retired at the end of June amid a number of policing scandals.
A senior officer in the Metropolitan Police in London and Greater Manchester, Byrne was appointed chief of Cheshire police in 2014. His last job ended in controversy in 2017 when he was accused of than 74 allegations of bullying. A tribunal exonerated him, claiming that much of what had been alleged had either been exaggerated or probably did not happen.
On his first day in office, Byrne embraced the highly dangerous strategy of recruiting informers.
“There will be a next-door neighbour, there will be family member — they can tip us off,” he said. It would be part of his plan to use the public as a “weapon”, he said.
The 56-year-old took part in a in ceremony at the Belfast headquarters of the Policing Board on Monday afternoon.
He described the PSNI (formerly the RUC) as a “unique service with unique challenges”, but refused to speak about legacy investigations, despite being asked. “I’m not qualified to go there yet,” he said. However, by 6pm that evening, he felt he was qualified.
“I think, unequivocally, that we shouldn’t be dealing with it [the past],” he told RTÉ News. “We’re not resourced to deal with it, there’s probably other issues that probably mean were not best place to deal with it, and I’d urge the government should take it off our hands.”
He plans to visit border areas during the next few weeks to see Brexit for himself, but agreed with those who have warned that renewed border infrastructure will likely come under gun and bomb attack.
“I understand the concerns of infrastructure, I do recognise for some people the manifestation of checks, cameras etc will be an emotive and antagonistic issue and they are liable to attack,” he said.
“I think it’s about working with other organisations to see what we actually need to do to deliver Brexit in the border areas if that’s ultimately what we have to do.”
Among the issues he faces are court rulings over the PSNI’s refusal to advance collusion investigations, the withholding of key documents related to conflict killings, public anger at political policing and harassment in Derry, the force’s controversial use of anonymous social media accounts and a scandal over the its actions during the Greenvale Hotel tragedy, in which three teenagers died during a crush outside a St Patrick’s night disco.