SIMON BYRNE, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, has responded to criticism of a picture he tweeted on Christmas Day in which he posed with heavily armed officers.
The picture, described by Sinn Féin as 'utterly unacceptable', was taken outside the heavily fortified Crossmaglen Police Station during a Christmas Day visit to several PSNI sites.
However the former Chief Constable of Cheshire Police said the picture was a reflection of the 'stark reality of the policing environment [officers] work in'.
On Christmas morning great to meet the team policing Crossmaglen @PSNINMDown I take my hat off to colleagues policing such a unique part of @PoliceServiceNI Their sense of duty & optimism is inspiring. Stay safe and thank you . pic.twitter.com/2Bj4bV9d48
— Simon Byrne (@ChiefConPSNI) December 25, 2019
Responding to the picture, Sinn Féin MLA for Newry and Armagh, Conor Murphy, said: "On Christmas morning, as the community in South Armagh were celebrating the festivities, Chief Constable Simon Byrne posed with heavily armed members of the PSNI at Crossmaglen Police Station.
"Further, in the text of the social media post the Chief Constable stated that policing in this area was 'unique' for the PSNI.
'Militaristic style of policing'
"This post by the Chief Constable is offensive to the local community and utterly unacceptable.
"It has only served to further undermine the public confidence in the PSNI within South Armagh.
"The heavily armed officers posing with the Chief Constable is reflective of the militaristic style of policing that the community in South Armagh has had to endure in recent years.
Are you being serious? This is so badly judged it's beyond belief. Christmas 2019 and you've just brought us back to the 80s. I understand this macho bollocks will impress your English colleagues and look well hard in your scrapbook, but this is an Irish town. Shame, shame, shame
— Squinter (@squinteratn) December 25, 2019
"This community is no different to any other, any attempt to differentiate the style of policing has not and will not be tolerated.
"As new Chief Constable, Simon Byrne should have sought to address issues which have eroded the local community's confidence in the PSNI in South Armagh, but this escapade has shown an intention to do anything but."
SDLP councillor Pete Byrne called for an urgent meeting with the Chief Constable, saying: "This isn't an ill judged tweet, the wording appears to be a deliberate attempt to set Crossmaglen and South Armagh as a place apart."
'Severe terrorist threat'
Following the largely negative reaction to his tweet, which garnered hundreds of responses, Chief Constable Byrne, who took up his post in May, released a statement defending the picture.
"I see that my tweet from Crossmaglen yesterday has caused some emotion," he said.
"This was a visit by me on Christmas Day to support local officers who do work in unique and often difficult circumstances.
I liked & retweeted this but on reflection can see the impact it has had. Whilst I think it was well intentioned; heavily armed officers sends the wrong message abt #Crossmaglen today. @crossrangers welcomed me to their club & I’ve not forgotten their kindness #NollaigShona 🎄
— Jim Gamble (@JimGamble_INEQE) December 26, 2019
"The officers are carrying weapons and, sadly, this is the stark reality of the police environment they work in, tackling the severe terrorist threat.
"This is no reflection on the local community who work daily with their local police officers to create a safe community.
"There is no doubt that much progress has been made in the towns and villages of south Armagh and my Christmas Day visit to officers who are working really hard to contribute to this progress is an indication of my commitment to build safer communities and tackle the terrorist threat."
Simon Byrne is a PR disaster for the PSNI. His Crossmaglen pic follows his idiotic threat to take kids off paramilitary parents. He just doesn't get this place, and he never will. He hasn't a hope in hell of reversing the trend of falling nationalist support for his force. pic.twitter.com/OH2QTlhyaA
— Suzanne Breen (@SuzyJourno) December 27, 2019