North’s chief constable sorry for provocative Crossmaglen photograph

Simon Byrne contrite over group shot with heavily armed officers outside police station

Northern Ireland's Chief Constable Simon Byrne has apologised for a controversial social media post in which he posed with heavily armed police officers outside Crossmaglen police station on Christmas Day.

The chief constable said his tweet "was never meant as a comment on the community of Crossmaglen and South Armagh Area and I am sorry for any offence that has been caused".

Mr Byrne has also commissioned a review of policing in south Armagh. SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said its remit will include the militarised appearance of the police stations in Crossmaglen and Newtownhamilton.

In his Christmas Day tweet, Mr Byrne said: “On Christmas morning great to meet the team policing Crossmaglen @PSNINMDown I take my hat off to colleagues policing such a unique part of @PoliceServiceNI Their sense of duty and optimism is inspiring. Stay safe and thank you.”


Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy said the tweet it was "offensive to the local community and utterly unacceptable". SDLP Cllr Pete Byrne said families had been "hurt and offended" by what appeared to be "a deliberate attempt to set Crossmaglen and south Armagh as a place apart."

In a statement issued on Tuesday, following meetings with Sinn Féin and the SDLP this week, the chief constable said he had "reflected on the issue at length and have had many conversations with both colleagues and external stakeholders. Since taking up the post of chief constable, I have been looking at the visibility, accessibility and responsiveness of policing right across Northern Ireland. "

He added: “As part of that ongoing work, I have commissioned a review of policing in south Armagh. The review will involve local officers, elected representatives and the local community.

“I am really proud of the local officers, who working together with local people, have made so much progress for policing and the community in recent years. It is only by working together that we will continue to make progress.”

Frank exchange of dialogue

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said the party had a "very frank conversation" with the chief constable.

“While the fact that he’s prepared to engage is a good sign, he needs to realise that all of these things are hugely sensitive,” said Mr Kelly.

Such a post, he said, “demonises the whole community because it looks like you can’t go into that community without being armed in a very military way. And that is not a true reflection of what is happening with policing down there.”

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly welcomed the chief constable’s apology and said she looked forward to the review and its findings.

“We had a robust discussion around the challenges of the style and appearance of militarised stations in Crossmaglen and Newtownhamilton. We discussed the slow pace of of transformation, the legacy of policing for communities like south Armagh and the ongoing cultural work that needed to take place within the PSNI.

“We were in agreement that this has to change. And I look forward to hearing the proposals coming forward from the PSNI in partnership with the community of Crossmaglen,” she said.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times