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Embattled Northern Ireland police chief could face three no confidence votes

September 1st, 2023

Chief Constable Simon Byrne was already under pressure after a huge data leak – Liam McBurney/PA

Northern Ireland’s embattled police chief could face three votes of no confidence after insisting he would not resign over a series of blunders.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne was found by the High Court to have unlawfully disciplined two officers policing a Troubles memorial event to stop Sinn Fein from withdrawing its support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) earlier this week.

He was already under pressure after a huge data leak that revealed the names of 10,000 officers and staff and fell into the hands of dissident republicans.

On Friday night, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the Democratic Unionist Party leader, said a motion of no confidence had been submitted to the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

“Confidence in the chief constable has been eroded, both amongst the wider public but, significantly, also amongst serving PSNI officers and staff. In light of that, we believe that a change of leadership is required,” he said.

The motion does not mean a vote of no confidence will be triggered by the policing board, which has oversight of the PSNI.

There were expectations that such a vote could be called at a marathon meeting of the board and Chief Constable Byrne on Thursday, but that is now on hold pending a possible appeal against the High Court judgment.

High Court judge Mr Justice Scoffield said the officers had been disciplined to allay a threat that Sinn Fein could withdraw its support for policing. Sinn Fein has insisted that it never made such a threat.

Chief Constable Byrne initially said he accepted the court’s decision, but now faces a backlash from rank and file officers and civilian staff after saying he was considering appealing against it.

The Police Federation has called an extraordinary meeting of its executive central committee next Wednesday, when it said a confidence vote on the PSNI leadership may take place.

Liam Kelly, the federation chairman, said: “This has infuriated and antagonised the rank and file further, and once again the two officers at the centre of the case are being treated disdainfully. In short, I am disgusted, disillusioned and extremely angry.”

It came as police said on Friday that an investigation was under way after a poster with details of three serving officers was placed on a bus shelter in Co Londonderry.

Nipsa, the union that represents a number of civilian police staff, is also set to hold an extraordinary departmental committee meeting of police staff representatives next week, during which it will be assessed whether there is a demand for a confidence vote in Chief Constable Byrne.

Tracy Godfrey, a Nipsa official, said it was likely the vote would be held, telling BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show: “It’s been one disaster after another.”

While the Federation and Nipsa no confidence votes cannot make Chief Constable Byrne quit, they will increase the pressure on Northern Ireland’s most senior officer, who is set to be grilled by MPs in Westminster on Tuesday.

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