Northern Ireland

Questions raised over claimed Sinn Fein influence over policing

Mark Sykes, arrested at the 2021 commemoration of the Sean Graham massacre on the Ormeau Road. Picture by Mal McCann.
Mark Sykes, arrested at the 2021 commemoration of the Sean Graham massacre on the Ormeau Road. Picture by Mal McCann.

QUESTIONS need to be asked about Sinn Féin’s claimed influence over policing amid a continuing legal action by two officers disciplined following an event remembering a loyalist massacre, according to the DUP.

One officer was suspended, the other repositioned, after a survivor of the February 1992 Ormeau Road massacre, Mark Sykes, was arrested at the 2021 remembrance ceremony.

The officers had attended to highlight potential coronavirus breaches in relation to the size of the gathering.

Mr Sykes, who was shot multiple times in that attack, was arrested during the commemoration.

He was detained on suspicion of disorderly behaviour and later released, admitted swearing at an officer.

The pair are seeking a judicial review of the disciplinary action taken against them.

Officers were accused by then Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of using “heavy handed tactics” as families laid flowers at the scene of the attack on Sean Graham’s bookmakers.

Peter Magee (18) James Kennedy (15) Christy Doherty (51) William McManus (54) and Jack Duffin (66) were killed when a loyalist gunman opened fire inside the bookies.

Brett Lockhart KC, for Chief Constable Simon Byrne, told the High Court on Monday it was “critical incident” that drew criticism from Sinn Féin and jeopardised public confidence in the police.

“This was not the rumination of people on social media, these were all sorts of political leaders up to the deputy first minister,” Mr Lockhart said.

On the decision to discipline the officers, the barrister added: “This was a carefully calibrated decision, there was anxious consideration given to it at three or four meetings involving some of the highest ranking officers of the PSNI.”

The DUP’s Trevor Clarke, who sits on the Policing Board, said submissions on behalf of the chief constable “raise further serious questions regarding Sinn Féin’s influence over policing in Northern Ireland”.

"There was no political bias in this police operation. However, from reading extracts of evidence submitted in defence of the chief constable in court this week, it appears that such a conclusion cannot be as readily drawn when it comes to the treatment of these probationary officers.

"Any inference that the decision to allow the axe to fall on these two young men was, at least in part, due to concerns raised by political leaders ‘up to the deputy First Minister’ is deeply disconcerting. The public interest test is not what Sinn Féin or the republican movement dictates it is."

The PSNI said it would be inappropriate to comment "as legal proceedings are ongoing". Sinn Féin did not respond to a request for comment.