Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council calls on Chief Constable to resign

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough has backed a motion calling for the resignation of the PSNI’s Chief Constable, Simon Byrne and deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill.

The motion, brought forward by DUP councillor, Darryn Causby and seconded by his party colleague, Alderman Stephen Moutray was put to a vote with 21 councillors voting to support and 19 voting against.

The motion reads: “That this Council stresses the importance of cross community confidence in the Chief Constable of the PSNI;

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“Expresses our disgust at the actions of the PSNI leadership team in relation to planning and facilitating the shocking breach of COVID-19 regulations at the funeral of Bobby Storey and recognises that the actions on that day undermined the public health message.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne at a press conference in Belfast after it was announced there will be no prosecutions following the Bobby Storey funeral for breaches of Coronavirus restrictions. Byrne said he would not resign despite calls from First Minister Arlene Foster to do so. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

“Therefore it calls on the Chief Constable, and the deputy First Minister, to resign in order to restore cross community confidence in policing and the political institutions.”

Introducing the motion, Councillor Causby explained it was lodged following the Public Prosecution Service’s decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Fein members, including the deputy First Minister, for their attendance at Bobby Storey’s funeral.

While expressing support for local officers who “continue to build positive relationships with local communities”, Cllr Causby criticised the actions of the PSNI’s senior leadership team and their decision making.

“The PSNI’s senior leadership team engaged with Sinn Fein leadership in relation to the Storey funeral and the PPS noted that one of the reasons not to prosecute was the prior engagement between organisers and police,” he said.

“The police have a key duty to uphold and enforce the law and on this occasion they failed in their duty.

“Their decision has given cover for a large funeral and mass gathering prompting a public outcry.” 

Cllr Causby then highlighted other incidents involving the Chief Constable and called on him to go.

“Other failures the Chief Constable has presided over include acting as judge, jury and executioner in response to how two rookie officers dealt with a gathering at Sean Graham bookmakers back in February,” said Cllr Causby.

“This was on top of the shambolic handling of the attempted rebranding exercise that took place prior to last summer that only served to highlight how the Chief Constable has failed to grasp the political environment in which he works.

“He has undermined the good work of his predecessors and grass roots officers. He should resign.”

Seconding the motion, Alderman Stephen Moutray said he did so with a “heavy heart” due to the efforts of local policing teams.

However, he told the chamber that while the actions of Sinn Fein members at the Bobby Storey funeral were not necessarily a surprise, the response of the PSNI was.

“The community had the rightful expectation that the PSNI would deal with law breaking as they have on over 300 occasions in this borough in the first three months of this year in relation to COVID-19 legislation breaches,” said Alderman Moutray.

“Two tier policing is no longer a perception for many sadly it is a reality.”

Sinn Fein’s group leader, Councillor Liam Mackle branded the motion a “farcical distraction tactic” and said his party would be taking no part in this “nonsensical debate”.

Appealing for calm, Alliance Party group leader, Councillor Eoin Tennyson noted the actions of those elected representatives who attended the funeral has helped to “fan the flames” of discontent.

However, he explained his party would not be supporting the motion and called on councillors to wait for the publication of a report on the handling of the funeral by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary before “trashing the reputation of police and senior officers”.

Describing the Chief Constable as a “puppet for Sinn Fein” Councillor Paul Berry said he would be supporting the motion.

Ulster Unionist group leader, Alderman Jim Speers said his party has always supported both the PSNI and the RUC but the issue now “goes to the core of the system of policing that has been happening across the province”.

“There is no merit in delivering the police service in a different context to different parts of the community,” he said.

While noting that those who broke the rules to attend the funeral were “wrong”, SDLP group leader Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon said the PSNI maintains his party’s confidence.

“I would appeal to those in this place and others to dial down the rhetoric to show strong civil leadership and let due process run its course,” he said.

When the motion was put to a vote, all DUP, UUP and independent councillors in attendance voted for it while all Alliance Party, SDLP and Sinn Fein members in attendance voted against.

As such, the motion was adopted with 21 members voting in favour and 19  against.

In response to this motion, a spokesperson for the PSNI said the force engages in the accountability process in a full and transparent manner.

“It is right that our community expects the Police Service of Northern Ireland to be accountable,” said the spokesperson.

“We engage in that accountability process in a full and transparent manner through the Northern Ireland Policing Board, which was instituted for that very purpose.

“Local Policing and Community Safety Partnerships are also in place to support that process at a local level.”