Coronavirus: Sinn Fein’s politics and sluggish civil servants blamed for delay in giving PSNI virus enforcement powers

Sinn Fein announcing the new PSNI powersSinn Fein announcing the new PSNI powers
Sinn Fein announcing the new PSNI powers | Other 3rd Party
A combination of Sinn Fein’s politics and sluggish civil servants was to blame for the three-day delay in beinging in new PSNI coronavirus crackdown powers, a former minister believes.

Mervyn Storey, North Antrim DUP MLA and former two-time minister in the Executive, made the comments after the devolved government finally published details on Saturday night of how police will enforce social distancing and the curbs on leaving home.

The Northern Irish powers appear to be broadly identical to the ones introduced in England, Scotland and Wales on Thursday afternoon.

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They give official licence to the authorities to shut down businesses, send people home, and disperse gatherings of more than two people.

The police can issue fixed penalty notices and use “reasonable force”.

The fixed penalties are for £60 (dropping to £30 if paid within 14 days), with fines of £120 for repeat offenders; ultimately offenders can accumulate fixed penalties of up to £960.

The rules also allow offenders to be fined up to £5,000 if they are convicted in court.

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When it comes to why it took so long for Northern Ireland to get the same powers as Great British-based forces, Mr Storey – ex-finance and social development minister and Policing Board member – said it is a case of “Connolly House Syndrome” at work (Connolly House being Sinn Fein’s west Belfast headquarters).

The party “does not want to be seen to be always following slavishly what’s coming out of Westminster”.

Asked why he believes this was at the root of the delay, he replied: “Twenty years of being in the Assembly with them. They’re not going to change their attitude.

“They’re always making sure they don’t get themselves on the wrong side [of their] ideological view of how they deal with these things.”

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He also went on to say “we still have some civil servants who are in process mode” – meaning they are preoccupied with bureaucracy.

“It is just yet another example of how difficult it is to operate in a five-party mandatory coalition because you’re always trying to balance a number of competing issues, concerns, opinions,” he concluded.

He said it was like trying to ride the Tour de France “on a bicycle with square wheels and no brakes”.

Sinn Fein and the Executive Office have both been approached for comment.