Nine out of 10 PSNI officers complain of low morale, conference hears

Northern Ireland Police Federation urges politicians to restore Stormont

Northern Ireland politicians have been urged by the chairman of the Northern Ireland Police Federation to "settle their differences" and reinstate Stormont to deliver what society and policing need.

Mark Lindsay, calling for "urgent investment" in policing, also told the federation's annual conference in Belfast on Wednesday that more than nine out of 10 police officers complained of low morale across the PSNI.

Mr Lindsay, referring to the dissident republican attempt to murder a police officer in a foiled under-car bomb attack in east Belfast at the weekend, described those responsible as people with “absolutely nothing to offer”.

“They are bankrupt, heartless, maniacs, politically irrelevant and deserving only of our condemnation,” he said.

He added, “They must be apprehended and for that, I appeal from this platform today for an all-out effort by this community to give them up, to rid us once and for all of this scourge that continues to blight this island.”

He also referred to the loyalist murder of Ian Ogle in east Belfast and the New IRA murder of Lyra McKee in Derry and said the community and the police "want to see an end to all terrorist groups".

As political negotiations continue at Stormont, Mr Lindsay deplored the lack of political movement. He said, “We have no programme for government, no one to fight our corner for increased numbers and adequate resources. The job of repairing fences and getting back to legislating and running Northern Ireland should trump all else.”

"If politicians are to rebuild public trust and confidence, then they will have to move from narrow, sectional demands and instead consider the greater societal good," he said at the La Mon Hotel on the outskirts of east Belfast.

He urged, “Settle your differences inside Stormont and not outside it. It’s time to end shrill megaphone voices for what passes as local political engagement. Deliver what people want and what policing and society needs.”

Mr Lindsay also told delegates that the latest Police Federation workforce survey found that 92 per cent officers believed that morale in the PSNI was low.

“This feedback from the ‘coalface’ is disturbing and worrying. In any other organisation or enterprise, this would set alarm bells ringing. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, the silence is deafening in some government departments,” he added.

“Without urgent investment, further decline in service will be inevitable. We will see more officers under stress and reporting sick. More being injured on duty and more leaving for less demanding jobs,” said Mr Lindsay.

He looked forward to working with the incoming PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne and offered the outgoing chief George Hamilton, who stands down at the end of the month, his best wishes.

Mr Lindsay, however, was critical of the outgoing Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire whose office holds police officers to account. He is also retiring at the end of this month.

“We have had a strained relationship with the current ombudsman, where we consistently highlighted a biased viewpoint towards serving and retired officers,” he said.

Mr Lindsay added, “We accept the office of the ombudsman has to have the confidence of the public but, crucially, also of police officers. It is not an unreasonable expectation that (Police Ombudsman office) investigations are conducted thoroughly and impartially. Colleagues, in the past, confidence that this has been done has been in very short supply.”

In response Dr Maguire agreed, “There has at times been a strained relationship between the two organisations,” while adding: “But I am at a total loss to understand how anyone looking at the totality of our work could conclude that we have a bias against police officers, either serving or retired.”

On the legacy of the Troubles, Mr Lindsay complained of a “determined and concerted effort underway to re-write the past, to demonise the security services, to downplay the actions of the killers and pretend their deeds were somehow legitimate or justified”.

He said the federation would “never tire of defending the good name and reputation of men and women, like you, who prevented all-out anarchy and mayhem and delivered the conditions for peace”.

Mr Lindsay also referred to the Soloheadbeg ambush in January 1919 when two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were killed. He said, "Some of our politicians eulogise the cowardly actions of the past. To commemorate events such as the murder of two police officers 100 years ago in Co Tipperary, only helps radicalise a new generation.

“Whether a murder took place 100 years ago, 40 years ago or 10 years ago, it was all wrong and politicians need to be mindful of the message they send out to society.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times