Northern Ireland

PSNI chief Simon Byrne calls for more officers to be recruited

Simon Byrne at a press conference after he begin the job Image copyright PAcemaker

The chief constable has said there is a "strong clamour" for more officers on the streets across Northern Ireland.

Simon Byrne told BBC News NI he would like to see a commitment, similar to that made in England and Wales, to the recruitment of more officers.

The PM Boris Johnson has pledged to hire an extra 20,000 police officers by 2022.

"I want to see that replicated here so we can get back to the levels Patten envisaged of 7,500 officers," he said.

There are currently about 6,700 police officers in the PSNI.

'Shock absorbers'

Mr Byrne also hit out at the political impasse at Stormont, describing it as "unhelpful".

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning executive since January 2017 when the two main parties split in a bitter row.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption With no ministers in place, civil servants have been making the decisions on running public services

The chief constable said the PSNI has become the "shock absorber for failure elsewhere" because of the current political vacuum in Northern Ireland.

Mr Byrne told the Good Morning Ulster programme that it was a "really dangerous situation to be in".

"My priority is to deal with the day-to-day operational challenges of providing a good service to communities right across Northern Ireland, but the vacuum certainly isn't helpful," he said.

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Image caption A police officer at the scene of the bomb at Cavan Road, Fermanagh

Mr Byrne also said he was concerned at "tempo and pace" of dissident Republican attacks recently.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the Continuity IRA "have come back into the fore".

"They are clearly intent on murdering one of my officers who are only going about their job to try and protect the public," he said.

"There are a small number of individuals here who are still intent on using terror to frighten people to their core."

'Brexit uncertainty'

He said the worry was that the "speculation around different forms of Brexit and the political uncertainty in Northern Ireland" had "become a sort of breeding ground for dissident hate towards my staff".

On Monday, bombers tried to lure officers to their deaths in County Fermanagh.

Police said dissident republicans were behind the explosion near Wattlebridge, close to the Irish border.

The journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead while observing rioting in the Creggan area of Londonderry in April.

In June, the "New IRA" claimed responsibility for a bomb under a police officer's car at Shandon Park Golf Club in east Belfast.

Image copyright AFP/Jess Lowe
Image caption Lyra McKee died in Londonderry on 18 April

'Working-class loyalists'

Mr Byrne said that he felt the PSNI was "not yet back at the point" where it needed to reintroduce the 50-50 recruitment process.

The 50-50 process was introduced as part of the Patten policing reforms, and was aimed at increasing the number of Catholic officers in a predominantly Protestant force.

The PSNI replaced the Royal Ulster Constabulary in November 2001, and the 50-50 recruitment policy ran for its first 10 years until 2011, during which the number of police officers from a Catholic background increased from 8% to 31%.

"It's a very emotive issue," he said.

He said he needed to "convince the people that hold me to account that we have tried every means possible to encourage people from both the catholic community and also the working-class loyalist community, who I think need a stronger voice in policing".

"We have looked at good practice, not just from the past here but from other places to encourage people that there is a good career working for the PSNI," he added.

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