Editorial: Simon Byrne had to go as PSNI chief constable and yet he was operating in a rotten political context

Morning View (Photo: gina)
Morning View (Photo: gina)

Of the two recent PSNI scandals that Simon Byrne presided over as chief constable, the data breach was the more serious in impact.

​It was a grievous breach of security and inflicted untold damage on officer safety, on intelligence and on morale in the service. But it might have reflected sloppy procedures around data that predated Mr Byrne’s tenure.

The saga that has been Mr Byrne’s undoing however, the wholly improper disciplining of two junior PSNI officers at the behest of Sinn Fein, probably had lesser personal impact but was the more serious blunder in terms of its implications.

The context of the apparent capitulation to republican demands made it far worse, particularly the Bobby Storey funeral in which police facilitated a mass Covid breach to assist the IRA.

In this though Mr Byrne was operating within a culture of such appeasement. There will be little point in him being replaced if the culture persists. What about the role of the Policing Board, for example, on which unionist members have often seemed docile? And even setting aside the shortcomings of political members, this incident involved the then board chief executive and chair reviewing the video footage on the Ormeau Road alongside Mr Byrne amidst him making an operational decision. Were they also keen to facilitate SF demands?

Ultimately the culture of special treatment for republicans permeates from the top – from the two governments. Consider Tony Blair’s secret scheme for IRA On The Runs, or Julian Smith and Simon Coveney’s reward for the three-year SF collapse of Stormont, not merely in an Irish language act but on legacy – and the latter when IRA leaders already enjoyed de facto amnesty while soldiers face trial. If Mr Byrne was to plead mitigation then he could plead the rotten context in which he was trying to operate.