Northern Ireland

Catholic Police Guild voice concern over PSNI data breach as 900 staff request support from threat management group

PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne. Picture by Liam McBurney, PA
PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne. Picture by Liam McBurney, PA

An organisation which represents Catholic PSNI officers has said the force must "take account of the particular sensitivities" faced by its members after details of 10,000 staff members were made public.

The PSNI has been thrown into crisis after the partial names and other details of every staff member was released via a Freedom of Information request.

It also emerged this week that a PSNI laptop, radio and details of up to 200 officers were taken after a car was broken into in Newtownabbey last month.

Superintendent Gerry Murray
Superintendent Gerry Murray

Read More:

  •  PSNI in contact with British government's emergency response committtee Cobra over 'industrial scale' data breach 
  • PSNI Chief Constable will not walk away from job following data breach

A Threat Management Assessment Group set up by the PSNI for those concerned about risks had had 600 referrals by yesterday evening, however, that figure had risen to 900 by this morning.

Mr Byrne met the Nipsa trade union which represents staff support officers this morning.

Speaking after the meeting Tracy Godfrey said she was alarmed to hear the number of requests for support from the group had risen to 900 overnight.

“I believe that number will climb, but they have got processes in place to deal with it. It’s just an awful lot of people with a lot of concerns,” she told the BBC.

Chief constable Simon Byrne has said dissident republicans have claimed to be in possession of the released information

The Irish News understands that the PSNI's most senior officer named the New IRA during an emergency meeting of the Policing Board on Thursday.

Republican groups have targeted Catholic PSNI officers in the past, including Ronan Kerr, who was killed after a bomb was left under his car in Omagh in 2011.

The security level was raised to severe in March after the New IRA tried to kill senior PSNI officer John Caldwell near the Co Tyrone town days earlier.

The Catholic Police Guild, which represents around 300 serving officers and civilian staff, has voiced concern about this week's developments.

Read more:
  • What is the Policing Board?
  • Who are the New IRA?
  • The PSNI - an explainer

Guild chairman, Superintendent Gerry Murray, said his members face particular concerns.

“It is hard to think of a more pressing issue for Catholic officers and staff than the data breaches which have come to light this week," she said.

"Everyone understands the particular difficulties faced by Catholic members of the PSNI and indeed the implications of this for potential new recruits from the Catholic community."

Mr Murray said the events of recent days could impact on future recruitment.

“Our members have expressed genuinely held concerns over the release of this information, they are worried for themselves and in many cases for their family members," he said.

"As chairman of the guild I am also concerned about the impact on future recruitment of young Catholics into the police service." 

Mr Murray said the guild has now called for "an urgent meeting" with the chief constable and senior colleagues adding that it wants "to be assured that the data breach will be fully and quickly investigated and procedures put in place to ensure it cannot happen again".

"Catholic officers and staff who feel vulnerable need to be supported in protecting themselves, their families and their homes," he said.

"The Police Service must acknowledge and take account of the particular sensitivities of the Catholic members of the force."

Mr Murray said it is crucial that the PSNI acts quickly.

"The community background of police officers and staff has to be given the proportionate weight when considering the implications of this data breach on serving officers," he said.

“It is important that the Police Service acts quickly and comprehensively to win back and retain the confidence of serving officers and staff. This applies particularly to colleagues from the Catholic community.”

The PSNI was contacted.