Northern Ireland

New chief constable pressed to ‘repair relations with unionist community’

PSNI new chief constable Jon Boutcher (Liam McBurney/PA)
PSNI new chief constable Jon Boutcher (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland’s new chief constable has been urged to “repair relations with the unionist community”.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson made the comment after his first meeting with the Police Service of Northern Ireland chief Jon Boutcher.

Mr Boutcher was appointed earlier this month after the resignation of previous chief constable Simon Byrne following a string of controversies.

These included a critical High Court judgment which found that actions taken against the junior police officers were unlawful.

It also said they had been disciplined over the policing of an event to remember an atrocity in Belfast during lockdown, to allay a threat that Sinn Fein could withdraw its support for policing.

Sinn Fein has said several times that there was no such threat.

Sir Jeffrey said he assured Mr Boutcher of the DUP’s support.

But he said there needs to be a recognition of recent history, and said he told Mr Boutcher that a “fair and representative police service in Northern Ireland will be one where political considerations do not direct operational decisions”.

“Checks and balances must be put in place to ensure Sinn Fein’s sway over those in the senior ranks can never be repeated,” he said.

“Ultimately the words of every political party and each political representative should carry equal weight and the rule of law must be enforced without fear of favour in every community.”

Sir Jeffrey also appealed for further funding for the PSNI, noting an estimated £45m black hole in this year’s policing budget.

“The number of PSNI officers is rapidly declining and those who remain are being asked to do more with less support and without a clear guarantee over future pay,” he said.

“We simply cannot tolerate this. It is wrong, for example, that a significant number of police vehicles are currently out of action because there are insufficient funds to make repairs.”

He said the policing budget in Northern Ireland has been “underfunded for more than a decade”, describing “a symptom of the failure by the Treasury to provide baseline budgets that meet assessed need in our province”.

“We only have to look at the tens of thousands of new officers recruited in England and Wales to see the inequality,” he said,

“Unless the Government moves to address this crisis, policing in Northern Ireland will continue to be on the defensive while crime becomes increasingly sophisticated.

“If the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is genuinely committed to ensuring our communities benefit from a fair, effective and efficient Police Service, it is high time he gave the PSNI the tools to do so.”