Northern Ireland

Policing and justice 2019: The dissident threat and shadow of legacy

Simon Byrne Image copyright PAcemaker

Policing had a new face in 2019, but Chief Constable Simon Byrne faced some old problems, from the dissident republican threat to dealing with the past.

On his first day, Mr Byrne called on politicians to implement legacy arrangements agreed in 2014.

But handing off Troubles investigations to a new, independent body remains on hold, just like Stormont.

Instead, the chief constable is concentrating on things within his control, namely a modernisation agenda.

Attracting Catholic applicants

From planned uniform changes to increasing neighbourhood patrols, Mr Byrne is out to shake things up, having arrived in Belfast from England in July.

Within months, he was also lobbying for extra officers.

Subject to obtaining the finances, he wants the PSNI to recruit 600 officers in 2020.

It is a move which will likely bring into focus the continuing challenge of attracting Catholic applicants in meaningful numbers.

Part of Mr Byrne's argument for additional manpower was based on dealing with increased dissident republican activity.

Dealing with the threat

The New IRA and the Continuity IRA stepped up attacks in 2019, with more half a dozen attempts to murder police officers.

One of those attacks resulted in Lyra McKee being shot dead.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lyra McKee was observing rioting in Londonderry's Creggan estate when she was shot

The 29-year-old journalist was hit by gunfire aimed at police lines during a riot in Londonderry in April.

The chief constable is also having to plan for Brexit.

With the deal creating a so-called border down the Irish Sea, his focus has shifted to having to potentially deal with loyalist protests.

Six months into a five-year contract, Mr Byrne has been finding his feet.

His new beat is one of the most challenging jobs in UK policing, but he looks to have embraced it with energy and enthusiasm.

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