Simon Byrne resigns as chief constable of the PSNI
Simon Byrne has resigned as chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) with immediate effect.
He tendered his resignation to the Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB) at an emergency meeting on Monday afternoon (September 4).
Mr Byrne was appointed chief constable of the PSNI in July 2019.
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) said the chief constable’s position had become “questionable and then untenable” after it won a Judicial Review into actions taken against probationer officers involved in the Ormeau Road ‘Covid-related incident’ in 2021.
And last week, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) submitted a motion of no confidence in Mr Byrne to the NIPB.
NIPB chair Deirdre Toner said: “I would like to record my thanks and appreciation to Simon for his work over the course of the last four years as chief constable.
“He is undoubtedly a dedicated police officer with a deep respect for the profession of policing.
“He was very aware of, and greatly appreciated, the often difficult job that officers and staff across the organisation do on behalf of the community.
“This may not always have been apparent to onlookers, but it was very much his modus operandi as was his desire to improve policing for the community through modernisation and investment in local policing arrangements.
“His tenure was subjected to intense scrutiny, and I am sure that the last few weeks in particular have been incredibly difficult for him personally and professionally.
“The board will now consider the leadership arrangements going forward.”
Ms Toner said Mr Byrne has asked the board to release the following statement on his behalf: “The last few days have been very difficult for all concerned.
“Regardless of the rights and wrongs it is now time for someone new to lead this proud and resolute organisation.
“Can I thank those who have shown me trust, advice and friendship.
“And of course thank you to the brave men and women of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.”
The Judicial Review had found the two probationer officers had been “unlawfully” disciplined for the incident during the annual wreath-laying ceremony on the Ormeau Road, which took place amid restrictions on public gatherings due to Covid-19 regulations.
The High Court said the chief constable “bent to political pressure” in the process.
During that event, one man, who had been shot and injured in the 1992 attack, was detained on suspicion of disorderly behaviour and put in handcuffs. He was later released without charge.
The suspension and re-positioning decisions on the two officers were lifted later that year.
Following an unprecedented emergency meeting with the NIPB on Thursday (August 31), which stretched to almost seven hours, Mr Byrne said he was “carefully reviewing the full judgment” and considering an appeal against the ruling.
It came weeks after a number of data breaches at the PSNI, one of which resulted in the personal details of 9,483 PSNI officers and staff mistakenly being published online in response to a Freedom of Information request.
PFNI chair Liam Kelly said: “The Ormeau Rd Judicial Review and the shocking potential course of action following the Policing Board was the final straw for Mr Byrne.
“The ruling was damning, and his initial acceptance followed by a volte face around a potential legal appeal grievously undermined his credibility and authority to lead the PSNI.
“It called into question his judgment, decision-making abilities and made his position untenable.
“Mr Byrne has now done the right thing. It is clear now that a full investigation is required into these matters to determine whether anyone else should be held to account for this fiasco for policing.
“This was an operational matter which should have been the exclusive responsibility of the service, free from political or external pressure or, indeed, interference.
“Morale has never been lower in the service. There is a serious and worrying disconnect between those in leadership roles and the men and women from all community backgrounds who are the rank-and-file.
“Whoever succeeds Mr Byrne has a mountain to climb to address the cultural deficiencies, re-build confidence and restore credibility. The Police Federation stands ready to work collaboratively to assist in making that happen.
“There is also the damaging perception that regulations are applied unequally and disproportionately. Our officers bear the brunt of disciplinary actions whereas those in senior positions are seemingly rarely subject to the same investigative processes and sanctions.
Mr Kelly added: “On a personal level, Mr Byrne has always been approachable and courteous. He has provided over 40 years of policing service to the communities across the UK.
“I do not doubt his commitment and attempts to build a modern, strong, community-focused Service during his tenure in Northern Ireland.
“However, he was frustrated from the outset by the failure of government to properly finance the PSNI and provide him with the tools and resources needed to do the job.
“I know this is not the way he envisaged his police career would end. I wish Mr Byrne and his family well for the future.”
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the resignation of the chief constable was the first step towards rebuilding confidence in the PSNI both inside and outside the organisation.
Speaking from Westminster he said “We welcome the decision by the chief constable to step down. It is the right thing to do following last week’s ruling by Mr Justice Schofield that the PSNI senior command unlawfully disciplined two of its own officers to appease Sinn Fein.
“Fair and even-handed policing is just as foundational to progress in Northern Ireland as fully functioning political institutions operating on a cross community basis.
“Public confidence has been damaged, but so too was confidence amongst rank-and-file officers in the police leadership.
“The resignation of the chief constable is not an end in itself, but merely an opportunity to make a fresh start in rebuilding that lost confidence both inside and outside the PSNI.
“At a time when officers are holding the line amidst unprecedented budget cuts it was the minimum necessary to send a message that the organisation is listening to widely held concerns.
“The focus now must be on the future of policing in Northern Ireland and ensuring we have efficient, effective policing which everyone can have confidence is impartial in its actions.”
The Superintendents’ Association of Northern Ireland (SANI) says the decision of the chief constable to resign ends a period of “worrying uncertainty and great disquiet” within the service.
President of the SANI, Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally, said: “Following the resignation of the chief constable, we are committed to do what we can to work with colleagues to ensure that we continue to deliver professional policing services for the entire community.
“The negativity which has played out over the past few weeks only serves to undermine the amazing police work going on every day in all communities across NI.
“As the Superintendents’ Association, we want to assure the public that while the current matters are being worked through, we are working tirelessly day and night with our teams to keep you safe.
“To our many dedicated and hardworking front line and support teams across policing who work collectively to protect our communities, including putting themselves in harm’s way, we are immensely proud of you and you have our unwavering support.
“The PSNI has delivered for the public in the past 20 years and, as the superintending ranks working alongside other staff associations, we want confidence in our service to grow.
“As a next step, we will be inviting the senior executive team to meet with our executive and set out their plans to address our concerns and build confidence in policing and its leadership amongst the public and the organisation.”
The association said it met today to discuss the views of its members and next steps.
News of Mr Byrne’s resignation broke during a speech to Parliament by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris on last month’s data breach at the PSNI.
He said he will “thank Simon Byrne for his years of public service”, adding: “The appointment of a new chief constable is a matter for the NIPB and I’ll continue to liaise with the senior management team of the PSNI whilst the process of appointing a successor gets underway.”
The NIPB had been scheduled to hold its monthly public session on Thursday, but a spokesperson said that had now been cancelled.