PSNI chief constable says he will not use children as leverage against paramilitaries
Simon Byrne clarifies remarks made about taking children of paramilitaries into care
PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne (centre) speaking at the Northern Ireland Policing Board in Belfast. Photograph: Michael McHugh/PA Wire
The new PSNI Chief Constable, Simon Byrne, has said children will not be used as a “lever to wring compliance” out of paramilitaries.
Speaking at his first meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board in Belfast on Thursday, Mr Byrne said he was not trying to “hold a sword of Damocles” over parents.
He was responding following controversy over remarks made at a conference on Wednesday which appeared to suggest that those involved in paramilitarism could have their children taken into care.
When asked about the recent increase in dissident violence in Northern Ireland, Mr Byrne said he planned to invest more resources into the PSNI’s paramilitary crime task force “so that we make these people’s lives a misery”.
“My message to them is if you carry on doing this we will have your house,” he said. “If you keep going we will have your car, we will have your kids, we will have your benefits, and we will put you in jail.”
At the meeting, he was asked to withdraw his comments by the Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly.
“The idea of taking children off anyone not to do with the safeguarding of a child, but to do with the effect it has on parents, I think it’s totally wrong,” said Mr Kelly.
“It has caused a deep worry.”
Mr Byrne said he was “quite happy to withdraw the interpretation that children are pawns, if that’s what’s being heard”.
“It wasn’t my intention,” he said.
“What I was talking about was how we use powers and policies to tackle paramilitary crime.”
He added that there were occasions during investigations when police officers would see things that caused concern over the well-being of a child.
“I was trying to remind officers that there are powers they can use there, but I certainly wasn’t trying to create the impression that this was a lever to wring compliance, for want of a better word, out of people that are under investigation,” he said.
The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma, said the removal of children “should not be used as a deterrent or threat”, but she appreciated Mr Byrne’s clarity at the meeting.
“I am relieved that this will not be PSNI policy.”
Mr Byrne made his original remarks on Wednesday, as he spoke to reporters after a stop and search policing conference at Queen’s University, Belfast.
“If you are somebody that has carried out a shooting, if you have got a gun and you have got young children, why would I think you are safe in the presence of your children?” he said.
“So what safeguarding powers have we got to take your kids into care, if that is a deterrent? I think we need to be more assertive, work with other agencies within the law to make sure people think twice before stepping into this space.”
Mr Byrne also announced plans to deploy 400 additional neighbourhood policing officers by the end of March 2020.
Almost half - 190 - of the positions will be paid for by EU Exit funding, with the remaining 210 redeployed from other departments.
Each district electoral ward will have its own dedicated officer, with additional capacity in some areas.
There is also to be a review of police uniforms. “I want to ensure our officers present a modern image to the community, whilst being afforded adequate protective measures for the everyday risks they face,” he said.