A motion of no confidence in the PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has been submitted to the Policing Board in Northern Ireland, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.
Sir Jeffrey said a change of leadership was required in the force after the embattled Chief Constable insisted he would not resign following a marathon meeting with the Policing Board on Thursday.
Mr Byrne has been facing growing pressure, with both rank and file officers and civilian staff considering confidence votes in his leadership.
The latest controversy to hit the PSNI erupted earlier this week when High Court judge Mr Justice Scoffield ruled that two junior officers were unlawfully disciplined for an arrest made at a Troubles commemoration event in 2021.
The judge said they had been disciplined to allay a threat that Sinn Fein could withdraw its support for policing. Sinn Fein has insisted there was no such threat.
In a statement on Friday, the DUP leader said his party had submitted a no confidence motion to the Policing Board which would be “debated at the earliest opportunity”.
The board is made up of 10 political and nine independent members.
Sir Jeffrey said: “It is disappointing and perplexing that the Chief Constable cancelled our planned meeting which was due to take place this afternoon.
“Had the meeting gone ahead, we would have had the opportunity to inform him of our desire for change and intention to submit to the Policing Board a motion to be debated at the earliest opportunity.
“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.
“Allowing the issue to drift will only cause greater problems for public confidence and for the PSNI as an organisation.”
Mr Byrne initially said he accepted the High Court judgment, but on Thursday indicated that an appeal was being considered and said it was inappropriate to make any further comment.
The chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland Liam Kelly expressed “disbelief and anger” at the statement.
Mr Kelly 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.
“It is hugely damaging to officer morale and confidence and has to be condemned.”
He added: “In short I am disgusted, disillusioned and extremely angry.”
The Police Federation has called an extraordinary meeting of its executive central committee next Wednesday when it said a confidence vote may take place into the PSNI leadership.
We stand with our colleagues in @PoliceFedNI & the senior executive team must listen to our collective concerns. We have the best interests of the service at heart. @PoliceServiceNI
— SANI (@SupersAssocNI) September 1, 2023
The Superintendents’ Association of Northern Ireland, which represents more senior officers, said it was standing with the federation.
In a social media post, it said the “senior executive team must listen to our collective concerns”.
It added: “In this current crisis facing policing, we must have strong leadership with clear-sighted objectives.
“The rebuilding of trust and morale is essential.”
Nipsa, which 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 if there is a demand for a confidence vote in Mr Byrne.
Unionist leaders had been expected to hold talks with Mr Byrne later on Friday, although those meetings were postponed.
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie has also called for Mr Byrne and his deputy Mark Hamilton to resign.
The incident which the High Court ruled on occurred on the Ormeau Road in Belfast in February 2021 during a service marking the anniversary of the February 1992 Sean Graham bookmakers attack, in which five people were murdered.
The two officers faced action in 2021 after the arrest of Mark Sykes, a survivor of a loyalist gun attack on the bookmakers in south Belfast.
The incident unfolded when police challenged people attending a memorial event amid suspicions that the size of the public gathering breached coronavirus regulations.
Mr Sykes was handcuffed and arrested in chaotic exchanges captured on social media.
The incident triggered a major controversy at the time and sparked criticism of Mr Byrne.
Mr Byrne apologised for the PSNI’s handling of the event at the time, and it was announced that one officer was to be suspended and one repositioned.
The court ruling this week has heaped further pressure on Mr Byrne, who was already facing questions about his future after a major data blunder led to personal details of officers entering the public domain and getting into the hands of dissident republicans.