NI PSNI Chief Constable appeals for calm during general election

Northern Ireland's police chief has appealed for calm during the General Election campaign as he warned that any form of intimidation will not be tolerated.

Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 2:13 pm
Chief Constable Simon Byrne

Simon Byrne, who has appointed a senior commander to oversee any policing operations linked to the campaign, urged respect for the electoral process.

Mr Byrne's comments come as officers continue to investigate telephone threats made to Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) staff during last week's political row over whether the party would step aside in the marginal constituency of North Belfast.

The alleged loyalist threats came as the party came under pressure to withdraw from the race to give the DUP a better chance of seeing off a challenge from Sinn Fein.

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The DUP strongly condemned the threats.

Mr Byrne said he had not yet seen any detailed evidence that indicated loyalist paramilitaries were trying to influence the election.

The police chief also said there was no intelligence to suggest dissident republicans may attempt to target election centres in the coming weeks.

On the UUP threats, Mr Byrne said the incidents were being investigated.

He added: "Right across Northern Ireland, if candidates come forward with evidence where they've been intimidated, where they've had threats individually, we will investigate that.

"Clearly, we are alive to the general atmosphere as the election takes place.

"We've established a single senior officer now to oversee the sort of senior policing in Northern Ireland throughout the election period. So we can pick up any issues or community tension, or indeed disputes, so that we can respond appropriately within the law respecting obviously that purdah starts and we've got to be very careful we're not seen to favour one party over another."

Mr Byrne was at the headquarters of the Policing Board in Belfast on Tuesday to attend the publication of a local policing review carried out last year.

Asked whether he had concerns that loyalist paramilitaries were trying to exert influence on the campaign, he said: "We've got no evidence at the moment of the detail of that.

"We police the day-to-day sort of goings on in Northern Ireland, which, frankly, paramilitary activity from different perspectives is part of that policing challenge.

"We police it, we monitor intelligence and will continue to do that real time throughout the election period."

On the potential of dissident attacks linked to the election, he added: "There's no intelligence at the moment about election centres being targeted.

"As I said, we've appointed a senior officer, what we call a gold commander, to take an overview of all the events in Northern Ireland at the moment, so that if there are community tensions or we get intelligence about planned attacks that we can respond appropriately, whether it's from dissident republicans or indeed from loyalism.

"We've got no intelligence at the moment that the sort of motivation around loyalist crime is changing.

"We're keeping sort of an active ear to events, but my appeal is for calm and to respect the electoral process."