Northern Ireland

‘Seismic discontent’ among nationalist PSNI officers after Sean Graham's massacre memorial arrest

<span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: sans-serif, Arial, Verdana, &quot;Trebuchet MS&quot;; ">The memorial on south Belfast's Ormeau Road to those killed in the Sean Graham bookmaker's attack. Picture by Hugh Russell</span>
The memorial on south Belfast's Ormeau Road to those killed in the Sean Graham bookmaker's attack. Picture by Hugh Russell The memorial on south Belfast's Ormeau Road to those killed in the Sean Graham bookmaker's attack. Picture by Hugh Russell

THERE is “seismic discontent” amongst nationalist PSNI officers following the events at a memorial outside Sean Graham bookmakers, it has been claimed.

The fallout from the arrest of Mark Sykes, a survivor of the 1992 loyalist gun attack on the Ormeau Road attack, led to the suspension of one officer and another being moved to office duties.

Five people, including a 15-year-old boy, were murdered in the UDA gun attack in south Belfast.

Sinn Féin deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill said the arrest at a memorial service on Friday marked “a watershed moment for public confidence in policing”. Following a meeting with Chief Constable Simon Byrne on Monday, she said: “We had a forthright and frank meeting with the PSNI chief constable to discuss the turbulent events of recent days which have caused unprecedented anger in recent times as well as discussing wider concerns around policing.”

The Irish News has learned that there is a level of discontent among some Catholic officers who have considered issuing a public statement in relation to internal problems heightened by Friday’s events. They say there is a growing feeling among Catholic officers that some senior colleagues remain resistant to change and are “agenda driven”.

Around 32 per cent of PSNI officers are drawn from the nationalist community. Those officers operate at a heightened risk, often having to leave their communities and risk being targeted by dissident republicans.

Constables Peadar Heffron, who was seriously injured in a January 2010 bomb blast, and Ronan Kerr who was murdered in a booby-trap car bombing outside his home in April 2011, were from the nationalist community.

A Catholic officer who did not want to be named for security reasons told The Irish News: “For the first time ever since I started, I feel shame and regret and maybe trying to change things from the inside is a pointless endeavour.”

The officer added that while it was possible the rookie uniformed officers in attendance did not know the background to the memorial event, it was less believable that a senior officer in the command room would not have realised the significance.

Families organising the event say they had informed the local community police and so the purpose of the small gathering was known. They also say that the event was live streamed online so that the majority of people who would have usually attended were able to watch from home and that those who did attend in person wore masks and remained social distanced in their family bubbles.

“If they were enforcing Covid legislation, they would have needed to clear it with an inspector who only deals with Covid stuff,” the officer said.

“They decide if you can issue a fine or not.

“In reality they were probationers who jumped in with both feet and ignored all standing instructions.”

However, the officer added: “There would have been experienced officers out with them - the probationers are carrying the can.”

On Monday night Chief Constable Simon Byrne said: “I understand the frustration and mixed emotions felt by everyone impacted by last Friday’s events on the Ormeau Road.

“There has been widespread commentary, both externally and internally, within my own organisation. I also fully appreciate there will be differing views on the approach we have taken. These have not been easy decisions. I have had feedback to that effect from my own staff associations over the last 48 hours.

“I urge everyone to await the outcome of the Police Ombudsman investigation.

“I am disappointed that anyone would ever regret joining the police. I know the personal sacrifices people make when choosing a career in policing. We have made solid progress over recent years increasing the number of Catholic recruits since our formation in 2001 from just over 8% to almost 32% at the end of last year.

“We will continue to address the areas which act as barriers to recruitment and work to address the issue of representativeness within our organisation.

“I am immensely proud of the work that goes on a daily basis by my officers and staff who continue to work diligently and courageously round the clock to protect everyone in Northern Ireland.”