Arlene Foster accuses Simon Byrne of ‘catalogue of failure’ over policing of multiple republican funerals
First Minister Arlene Foster has accused the Chief Constable Simon Byrne of a “catalogue of failure” over the policing of alleged republican lawbreaking on multiple occasions.
As the fallout from the decision by prosecutors not to charge any Sinn Fein members over their attendance at the funeral of the IRA’s former head of intelligence Bobby Storey continues, the PSNI chief is facing calls from all unionist political parties in Northern Ireland to resign.
In a new development, the DUP leader has broadened her attack to include police actions at a series of other republican funerals and “shows of strength”.
Earlier this year Mrs Foster wrote to Mr Byrne expressing concern about at least 10 incidents dating back to May 2019 in which concerns were raised about alleged criminal activity around such illegal displays and gatherings.
In the reply, which has been obtained by the News Letter, Mr Byrne details how the police responded in every incident.
In the letter he states that the PSNI’s approach to dealing with potential criminal offences at funeral has “consistently focused on evidence gathering as a means of identifying those involved and progressing investigations post-event”.
But in the long list of events investigated by police, the only prosecution announced so far is into alleged health regulation breaches at the funeral of Francie McNally in April of last year.
At the funeral of former IRA prisoner Jim Scullion last May, Mr Byrne said police were unable to make positive identifications of anyone despite 100 people following the hearse.
Following the death of INLA killer Martin McElkerney in May 2019, police were unable to make any arrests following reports of shots being fired at what Mr Byrne described in his letter as a “show of strength”.
Mrs Foster said: “The PPS statement indicating that police engagement with the organisers of the Bobby Storey funeral gave comfort to those in flagrant breach of the law is shocking but it is not an isolated example of how the PSNI has failed to enforce the rule of law fairly or impartially.
“Back in January, I wrote to the Chief Constable identifying at least 10 incidents in which republicans had allegedly broken the law, dating back to May 2019. The response to this letter detailed a catalogue of failure. Failure to gather proper evidence and even failure to even send a file to the PPS.
“At the time of the Chief Constable’s reply, investigations into six of those incidents had already been closed or pending without further action, mainly because the perpetrators couldn’t be identified.”
Mrs Foster went on: “Incredibly, at the funeral of Jim Scullion in May 2020, none of the 100 persons following the hearse could be identified despite evidence gathering teams being deployed both in the air and on the ground. Even when the police knew an illegal event was taking place, when evidence teams were deployed, it still ended with no convictions.
“The pandemic has placed serious question marks over the PSNI’s ability and willingness to gather evidence against republicans. This is no reflection on rank-and-file officers. Instead, it appears to be a demonstration of the senior command team cow-towing to militant republicanism
“It is inconceivable that it would take officers six months to interview anyone else for alleged breaches of the Covid regulations but that is exactly the latitude afforded to the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister.
“Everyone should be equal under the law and equally subject to it. If the PSNI senior team want to lead a police service for everyone in Northern Ireland there can be no special status for republicans.”
The News Letter asked the PSNI to respond to the latest comments from Mrs Foster but the force declined to do so.
However, in his letter to Arlene Foster, the Chief Constable insisted that policing was always carried out impartially.
He wrote: “I want to reassure you that, as a Police Service, we are dedicated, in line with our statutory obligations, to investigating legislative breaches and criminal offences impartially, objectively and effectively. This applies irrespective of community or political background.”
Mr Byrne added: “The public’s perceptions of a two tier policing approach remains of great personal concern to me, and I accept that the delay in criminal justice outcomes has been a significant contributory factor. This has prompted us to work alongside Public Prosecution Service to explore whether there is potential to extend the use of Fixed Penalty Enforcement post event, as a means of speeding up justice outcomes.”