Collaboration between Garda and PSNI needed – South Armagh policing review

Further policing reforms in south Armagh recommended as ‘trust’ issues identified

Fifty recommendations for the PSNI were detailed in a 170-page report published on Tuesday, which was produced following a review of policing in south Armagh. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Fifty recommendations for the PSNI were detailed in a 170-page report published on Tuesday, which was produced following a review of policing in south Armagh. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

A cross-Border agreement should be reached to allow police services in the North and the Republic to pursue suspects across the Border, according to a report by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

It was one of 50 recommendations detailed in a 170-page report produced following a review of policing in South Armagh, which was published on Tuesday.

The report proposed a bi-lateral policing agreement should be explored between both departments of justice “with the aim of facilitating joint rather than parallel policing operations” between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána.

“As a minimum this should enable cross-border hot pursuit between policing jurisdictions in the interests of community safety and policing effectiveness,” it said.

It recommends that this should be facilitated “in defined circumstances”, within a timescale of between three to five years.

Consultation with senior Garda officers responsible for border policing “indicates support for developments of this nature,” it said.

The report noted that there was currently “no co-ordinated pursuit capability between jurisdictions” and increased policing collaboration would also provide health and safety benefits for officers working in Border areas.

“It does not seem logical or reasonable that police colleagues across the border cannot provide reassurance and mutual support to each other where there is risk to life or serious injury.”

It also makes a number of other proposals regarding cross-border policing, including the development of a “command and control and pursuit prevention protocol” with a focus on the management of planned pursuits.

There should also be increased cross-border communication and collaboration, as well as the introduction of a cross-border accountability mechanism at local level between both forces, and effective public communication of joint activity “to reassure the local community and increase confidence in policing.”

Other proposals included the closure of Crossmaglen police station, the relocation of police memorials and that G36 assault rifle weapons “should no longer be routinely carried.”

Each of the recommendations is given a timescale ranging from urgent (up to three months) to long-term (three to five years).

Social media

The review into policing in South Armagh was launched in January 2020 following the controversy surrounding a social media post on Christmas Day 2019 in which PSNI chief constable, Simon Byrn, was pictured outside Crossmaglen police station with officers carrying PSNI-issue assault rifles.

At the time, then Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy said the post was “offensive to the local community and utterly unacceptable” and had “only served to further undermine the public confidence in the PSNI within South Armagh” while the SDLP councillor Pete Byrne said families were “hurt and offended to see a Twitter post from the PSNI Chief Constable featuring officers with heavy weaponry on show.”

The report and the findings were presented to local community and elected representatives in South Armagh on Tuesday morning.

The police said the review sought to address the “style, tone and accessibility of local policing and whether it was appropriately aligned to community expectations and needs.”

Its findings and recommendations focus on six core areas including confidence and legitimacy, organisational culture, image and identity, engagement, leadership and accountability and integrity.

The report was welcomed by Mr Murphy, who said it was a recognition by the PSNI that it “got the relationship with this community very badly wrong.”

Mr Byrne said the report was long overdue. “There was a promise given for a full review of the policing of South Armagh, and I have to say he [the Chief Constable] hasn’t fallen short of that promise,” he said.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson condemned the recommendations, which he said were “politically motivated”. He also claimed the end goal of the report was “the creation of all-Ireland policing structures which would be politically unacceptable.”

This would require legislation, he said, and emphasised that the DUP would “oppose such and actively veto the proposals if there is an attempt to push them through.”

He said that while cross-border co-operation was “sensible” he questioned the recommendation in the report that hot pursuit of a suspect over the Border was a “minimum”, asking: “What’s the maximum? Garda patrols in Newry?”

He also said the PSNI should “not be accountable to another country” and said the creation of an all-island body for policing “would be politically unacceptable and would represent a serious violation of Northern Ireland’s sovereignty.”

Earlier, the DUP MP Gregory Campbell told the BBC there would be an “outcry” over proposals to move memorials to police officers as well as concerns issues such as cross-border patrolling and said it would be “an impossibility to implement if the Chief Constable persists in some of these politicisation of the police service.”

The chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Mark Lindsay, expressed concerns for the safety of police officers and said they needed “proper protection” to offset any threat.

He also said any proposal to move memorials must be handled “properly and with sensitivity, with full consultation with the families.”

Issues of trust

The report noted that issues of “trust, confidence and the prevailing influence of the past on relationships between police and the local community” were central to the review, and the delivery of style and tone of policing in the area emphasised the past rather than the future.

It found changes were necessary to “align the South Armagh policing model to standard organisational practice and to build confidence and support for policing in the interests of community safety.”

Among the report’s 50 recommendations were the stipulation that all local and neighbourhood policing duties in South Armagh should be performed using PSNI-liveried vehicles, with an “immediate initial transition of 50 per cent of the vehicle fleet to liveried armoured vehicles”

Non-armoured vehicle capability “should be introduced gradually within a five-year period in the interests of normalised policing, improved attendance times, increased road safety and pursuit capability.

Crossmaglen Police Station was “no longer considered fit for purpose in delivering accessible and responsive policing” and options for closure “should be explored as a matter of priority with a view to facilitating redevelopment and regeneration.”

While a new, purpose-build station is the preferred option, if this is not economically feasible Newtownhamilton police station should be rebranded as South Armagh police station.

It also recommended exploring relocating police memorials to “an agreed space in the station away from public locations and main thoroughfares.”