Simon Byrne has resigned as chief of the PSNI amid a meltdown in the Crown police force caused by unionist politicking.
A last-ditch bid by Byrne to hold onto his post failed as pressure from the Police Federation, the trade union for the force, reached a crescendo.
It followed a major data leak which left the force demanding an estimated bill of £240m in expenses and compensation. That was followed by a bitter internal squabble over the disciplining of two junior members in the wake of pressure from Sinn Fein.
Policing scandals are frequent in the north of Ireland, but this week Byrne decided it was “time for someone new to lead the PSNI”.
Republicans condemned the English policeman long ago as a typical colonialist after he endorsed the traditional military agenda, posing with machine guns outside an armoured police base in republican South Armagh and threatened to “have your kids” - seize the children of republicans.
People Before Profit’s Gerry Carroll said Byrne’s resignation was long overdue, but criticised the motivation behind it.
He said “few would lament the exit of the head of an increasingly indefensible police force, but political unionism has clearly stirred the pot on this issue for their own political ends.
“Where were the joint calls for the Chief Constable to resign when journalists uncovering state collusion in Loughinisland were arrested? There was no such chorus when the PSNI tried to censor a Police Ombudsmans’ report into the Sean Graham bookies massacre.
“Members of the policing board made no resignation call over the PSNI’s mishandling of the Noah Donohoe investigation, or the attempt to criminalise his grieving family for protesting his case.
“Political leaders had no problem backing Simon Byrne when the PSNI tried to prosecute Black Lives Matter activists or over its wholesale prejudice in policing minorities. Instances of sexism and domestic abuse stemming from the ranks of the PSNI were met with similar silence.
“Policing board members and political parties routinely pick and choose which policing scandal offends them. Their hypocrisy is absurd.”
There are signs the hated force is facing a crisis from which it may not recover.
On Monday evening, the Policing Board said its members had agreed to prioritise the recruitment of a new chief with the role temporarily handed over to Deputy Chief Mark Hamilton – but within hours, the Police Federation said they wanted Hamilton gone, as well two other senior figures.
An overwhelmingly Protestant workforce with a reputation for sectarian violence, it is both feared and hated in nationalist areas. It is also viewed with disdain by the unionist community for its indulging of loyalist intimidation and drugs crime.
The failure to carry out meaningful reforms following its rebranding in 2001 from the old RUC is seen by nationalists to be at the heart of its problems.
Legally, the murderous RUC has never been disbanded, and the 32 County Sovereignty Committee last week noted that the PSNI is still officially using the name of the disgraced RUC for legal purposes.
“The only reason media scrutiny has been placed on this organisation of late is because of a series of highly embarrassing data leaks containing the information of serving personnel.
“The media in the past would always toe the line of silence when it came to data leaks, specifically those relating to Republicans, their families or anyone from an Irish or catholic background, many times leading to assassination by loyalist death squads.
“The issues don’t stop with data leaks, this force is rife with sectarianism, misogyny and racism, all described on a regular basis by serving personnel.
“As well as this there is widespread speculation of coverups relating to suspicious deaths such as that of young Noah Donohoe. Officers taking and sharing pictures of suicide victims and manipulating their bodies for sick gratification and jokes.
“There is also their continued implication in the setting up of Republicans, such as John Paul Wootton and Brendan McConville, the Craigavon 2.
“As far as we are concerned British policing in Ireland is illegitimate political policing, designed to keep Irish sovereignty at bay.”
Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín called on the Dublin government to “stop standing idly” by as the PSNI goes into meltdown.
“Heavy handed and militaristic policing is the experience of many people in nationalist areas,” he said.
“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.”