Leading article

Unionists must fully support PSNI

THE assembly is being recalled today to debate an Alliance motion on the violence targeted at the police in loyalist areas in recent days.

Under normal circumstances this would give all of the parties at Stormont the opportunity to not only call for calm but also voice their unqualified support for the PSNI.

The unionist parties, however, find themselves in the position of being unable to offer their unreserved backing to the police because they have been clamouring for Chief Constable Simon Byrne's resignation.

This follows last week's decision by the Public Prosecution Service to not bring charges in relation to the Bobby Storey funeral.

The PPS cited the extent of the police liaison with the funeral organisers as one of its reasons for not proceeding with cases against 24 people, including Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill.

Although the PSNI had itself recommended that prosecutions should be brought, unionist politicians managed to conclude that the blame for the PPS decision and an outcome not to their liking lay with Mr Byrne.

If calls for Mr Byrne to step down looked needlessly hasty and rash last week, today they look even more ill-advised.

There are multiple reasons why unrest erupted last Friday, but it is impossible to untangle from them the emphatic denunciation of Mr Byrne by unionist leaders.

This clearly inflamed the situation and contributed to the police being targeted at a time when mature and measured political leadership was required.

As Alliance leader and justice minister Naomi Long pointed out yesterday, inflammatory comments around policing "have been deeply and profoundly unsettling and we have seen this spill over into violence on the streets".

DUP leader Arlene Foster is attempting to maintain a distinction between criticising the PSNI 'senior leadership' and rank-and-file officers; that will strike many as difficult to sustain following violence that has seen 41 PSNI officers injured and 10 people - including two boys, aged 13 and 14 - arrested.

It is also dispiriting that Mrs Foster says she won't speak to Mr Byrne about the welfare of his officers following the attacks.

Many will contrast that position with the fact that she has met with the Loyalist Communities Council in recent weeks.

Of course, political representatives must be able to criticise senior figures such as the chief constable. But there are hard-won structures - primarily the Policing Board - where that should take place.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Leading article