Northern Ireland

Policing Board ‘should meet in public to restore confidence in PSNI leadership’

SDLP Policing Board member Mark Durkan has said the board should hold a meeting in public this week (Liam McBurney/PA)
SDLP Policing Board member Mark Durkan has said the board should hold a meeting in public this week (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Policing Board must hold a public meeting this week to help restore public confidence in the PSNI leadership, member Mark Durkan has said.

The board, the oversight body for the PSNI, usually holds a public meeting on the first week of every month, but has not done so since a string of controversies which led to the resignation of chief constable Simon Byrne.

These included a significant data breach in which the personal details of all officers and staff were mistakenly published online and a critical High Court ruling which said that two junior officers had been unlawfully disciplined.

Police officers unlawfully disciplined
Policing Board chairwoman Deirdre Toner (Liam McBurney/PA)

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton is currently leading the PSNI, although he is not at his desk following a medical procedure.

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland has also passed a vote of no confidence in Mr Hamilton’s leadership.

Last week the board announced that it had begun recruitment processes for both a permanent and an interim chief constable.

A private meeting of the board will take place on Tuesday to consider applications for the temporary post, and it is understood a public meeting will be planned in the coming weeks after an appointment is made.

A board spokesperson said it could not meet in public with no chief constable in place.

PSNI data breach
Simon Byrne resigned as PSNI chief constable last month (Liam McBurney/PA)

However, Mr Durkan called on board chair Deirdre Toner to reverse the decision not to meet in public this Thursday.

Mr Durkan said: “The decision of the chair of the NI Policing Board to ditch the next scheduled public session is the wrong one.

“I have written to the board urging that the decision is reversed and that as part of the board meeting on Thursday there is a public discussion with the PSNI executive team.

“At a time of policing crisis this decision would mean that the board will not have had a public session since July – three months ago.

“As things stand it would mean there would be no public session for four months – until November, if even then. This isn’t sustainable.

“It will not help public confidence and it will create issues around the good authority and reputation of the board.

“A key Patten recommendation of a monthly meeting of the board will be breached.”

He added: “The Policing Board has received legal advice that as a public board meeting is held to ‘receive a report from the chief constable’ and there cannot be a meeting as there is no chief constable.

“I do not agree. I have said to the chair of the board that as the intention of Patten (recommendation 34) was to receive a report in public from the chief constable on behalf of the police, this should be honoured with a public session to receive a report from the PSNI executive team.

“There is a way to ensure a public discussion and proper accountability this week at the October Board meeting.

“This is needed, this is what is expected and this must happen.”

A Policing Board spokesperson said: “The board will hold its regular accountability meeting with the PSNI Service Executive Team on October 5 to receive an update report on operational activity and actions which will be published.

“The October 5 2023 meeting will not have a public session.

“Legislative provision states that board meetings in public are for the purpose of receiving and considering a report from the chief constable only.”