South Armagh: Mixed reaction to ‘long overdue’ policing review

PSNI Crest
PSNI Crest

The review contains 50 recommendations which include the closure of the highly fortified Crossmaglen police station

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There has been a mixed reaction to a report which makes recommendations to transform policing in south Armagh.

The review contains 50 recommendations which include the closure of the highly fortified Crossmaglen police station, that assault rifles should no longer be carried as routine by officers on patrol duties, closer working with the Garda Siochana and consideration to signs in Irish.

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy and SDLP councillor Peter Byrne welcomed the findings as “long overdue”.

However, the representative body for police warned that the safety of officers in what has traditionally been one of the toughest areas to police must be prioritised.

Speaking following a briefing of local community representatives in south Armagh by PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne, Mr Murphy said the report recognises that the PSNI “got the relationship with this community very badly wrong”.

The review came after a photograph of Mr Byrne posing with heavily armed officers at Crossmaglen station in 2019 on Twitter sparked outrage.

Mr Murphy said his party has told successive chief constables since 2007 that their approach was wrong.

“I think there is a recognition of that so I am glad we have got to this point,” he said.

“I’m glad that the current chief constable followed through on the meeting we had with them after that photograph in Crossmaglen, and he promised to follow through on a review an a change to the style of policing here, so this promises that and it will be very much welcomed in this community.

“All we have wanted is a proper responsive policing service that respects the community that it serves and there are a series of recommendations in here to bring us to that point. We will work with the police to get there.”

Peter Byrne said the community had “waited a long time to get to this point”.

He described the 2019 tweet as the “tipping point for the community”.

“That image spoke a thousand words, it’s taken nearly two years to get to this point but there has been a lot of engagement from people on the ground,” he said.

“There was a promise given for a full review of the policing of south Armagh, and I have to say he (the chief constable) hasn’t fallen short of that promise.

“There are 50 recommendations, some are big recommendations in terms of infrastructure which will get a lot of headlines and the downgrading of assault rifles. But what should get the headlines today is the other recommendations of changing the nature of policing and how police actually move about south Armagh.”

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) chairman Mark Lindsay said the report also acknowledges “considerable positive changes that have taken place in south Armagh”.

“That said, our officers still face considerable challenges, more now from organised crime gangs than paramilitaries,” he said.

“Officers policing on behalf of the entire south Armagh community cannot be put at risk.

“They need proper protection to offset any threat that exists and cannot be exposed to unacceptable dangers because it is expedient for political reasons.

“Officer safety must come first. It has to be the top priority. Anything that threatens the safety of our officers deserves to be consigned to the bin.”

Mr Lindsay also expressed concern at the recommendation around moving memorials to murdered police officers.

“Police memorials which acknowledge the sacrifice of officers who paid the ultimate price must be handled properly and with sensitivity, with full consultation with the families of those who were murdered delivering policing across society,” he said.

He concluded: “We have been consulted at local level about all of this but, frankly, this report in its totality was delivered as a fait accompli without full consultation where our corporate views could have been taken on board.”