PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne resigns

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne resigns

UNTENABLE POSITION PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne (L) is pictured alongside PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan (R) at the Policing Board headquarters on August 10, 2023 in Belfast (picture by Charles McQuillan, Getty Images)

PSNI CHIEF CONSTABLE Simon Byrne has resigned from the force with immediate effect. Policing Board chair Deirdre Toner confirmed during a press conference that Mr Byrne had tendered his resignation with immediate effect.

His resignation came on foot of a series of controversies, including a major data leak and the unlawful disciplining of two junior officers.

Chief Byrne’s position became untenable after facing an emergency meeting of the Policing Board. The head of the police in Northern Ireland returned early from a holiday to face the meeting which lasted over six hours, and was described as “unprecedented”.

The final straw to the chief constable’s position came after a High Court ruling that a decision to take action against two junior officers two years ago was unlawful.

In a statement read on behalf of Byrne, he said "the last few days have been very difficult" and it's time for a new leader

Pressure has been mounting on Byrne after recent controversies including disciplinary action against two junior officers quashed by a judge last week, and data breaches which have ben described as ‘catastrophic’.

The actions taken against two junior officers after making an arrest at a Troubles commemoration event in Belfast in 2021 focused on an incident happened on the Ormeau Road in the south of the city in February 2021 during a service marking the anniversary of the February of the Sean Graham bookies attack in which five men were murdered.

The arrest of a man — a survivor of a loyalist assassination attempt — by the two PSNI officers happened amid chaotic scenes. First Minister Designate Michele O’Neill branded the policing of the event “disgraceful”.

Byrne apologised for the incident and confirmed disciplinary steps taken against the two recently recruited officers.

Last week the judge, Mr Justice Scoffield ruled that they had been disciplined to allay a threat that Sinn Féin could withdraw its support for policing, but Sinn Féin insisted that there was no such threat.

Unionist politicians sided with the judge and believe that Byrne was trying to placate ‘nationalist sentiment’.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has welcomed the resignation of Simon Byrne. Speaking in the House of Commons, he said it was the “right thing to do” under the circumstances..

Earlier last month PSNI officers were “stunned”, according to one officer, after revelations of a “monumental” data breach saw details of around 10,000 police officers and staff published online.

Dissident republicans claim to have the details, which has obvious, and very frightening implications for all ranks in the PSNI.

Many Catholic, members of the force said they had always kept their connection with the PSNI secret from their community, and in some cases even from their families due to the fear of the information falling into the wrong hands.

Staff were not informed about this breach in security until almost a month later.

Whether Chief Constable Byrne will ride out this latest storm remains to be seen. The Englishman, from Epsom in Surrey, was on a salary of £207,000 plus, one of the highest paid civil servants in Britain or Ireland, earning more than the prime minister or the taoiseach. He had been in the job in Northern Ireland since 2019.