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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Richard Wheeler

Donaldson calls for interim leader to take control of PSNI ‘crisis’

PA Wire

An interim leader should be appointed to steer the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) through a “crisis situation”, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

Former PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne resigned this week after a string of controversies.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton is currently steering the organisation while moves are under way to recruit a new chief.

Mr Hamilton had been expected to attend an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, a body representing rank and file officers, but was unable to attend due to an unplanned medical procedure.

A PSNI spokesperson said the Service Executive Team is leading the organisation following Mr Hamilton’s medical procedure.

Federation chairman Liam Kelly told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Tuesday that he believed Mr Hamilton needed to address his members’ concerns.

Mr Byrne quit on Monday as pressure mounted after a data breach, which revealed personal details of officers and staff, and a critical High Court judgment, which said the disciplining of two officers following an arrest at a Troubles memorial event in Belfast in 2021 was unlawful.

Sir Jeffrey said an interim leader needs to be “brought in” for the PSNI.

Speaking in the House of Commons, he said the DUP “fully supports” the PSNI in its “impartial implementation of policing across all communities in Northern Ireland”.

But he said: “We are in a crisis situation, with not only the data breach but also the loss of confidence internally within the PSNI.

“And whilst it is the responsibility of the policing board to make appointments, does he agree with me that perhaps what we need now, in the absence of a chief constable, is for someone to be brought in with the experience and leadership credentials that are needed in the interim period, pending the appointment of a new chief constable, to take control of this situation?”

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris responded in the Commons.

“I do believe the senior management team is a strong and an effective unit and the policing board has a lot on their plate at this point in time and have even, I believe, launched a review into how they operate themselves,” he said.

“I’m quite sure questions are being asked to see what can be done in this space but, as of now, I can only update the House with what I have.”

In an earlier exchange between the pair, Sir Jeffrey said: “The data breach is a matter of national security because it includes officers who work with the security service in a very specialist role involving counter-terrorism and intelligence in Northern Ireland.

“So will the Secretary of State assure the House that whatever resources are required by the PSNI, not only to fulfil that function but to protect its own officers and staff, will be available to them?”

Mr Heaton-Harris thanked Sir Jeffrey for the “very and sensible” question, adding: “Some of the elements of that question are obviously in a place that I cannot answer in public, but any additional funding required by the PSNI would be submitted through an established process and currently we’re right at the very beginning of that established process.”

He said it “would not be right to pre-empt that but the Government is clear that security is paramount”.

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