PSNI chief constable suggests children of paramilitaries be taken into care
‘If you have a gun… why would I think you are safe in the presence of young children?’
Chief Constable Simon Byrne: “The use of paramilitary attacks, beatings, breaking people’s legs, other limbs, in the name of the rule of law, is just odious.” Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The new PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne has raised the possibility that people involved in republican or loyalist paramilitarism would have their children taken into care.
Asked about the recent increase in dissident violence Mr Byrne said on Wednesday that the community should say to all the paramilitaries that “enough is enough”.
“The use of paramilitary attacks, beatings, breaking people’s legs, other limbs, in the name of the rule of law, is just odious. How anyone could think that is justified in a civil society is beyond me,” he said.
Mr Byrne said that 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, we will have your car, we will have your kids, we will have your benefits, and we will put you in jail,” he said.
The paramilitary crime task force works with a number of agencies including the British National Crime Agency which has the power to confiscate criminal assets.
Mr Byrne went further by indicating a preparedness to see children of paramilitaries taken from their parents and put into social care.
Explaining his reference to children in care he said, “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?
“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 made his comments to reporters after he spoke at a stop and search policing conference at Queen’s University, Belfast organised by Include Youth, the Children’s Law Centre, and Crime and Social Justice Group from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s.
Paddy Kelly, director of the Children’s Law Centre said that between 2010/11 and 2018/19 approximately 35,000 under-18s were stopped and searched by police.
She (stet) said that recent comments from the PSNI about dissidents attracting young people highlighted “the urgent need for the PSNI to act to build better relationships with young people; especially in those areas where stop and search is most used”.
“As part of that process there is an immediate need for independent scrutiny and review of PSNI stop and search of young people to ensure the use of these powers is always lawful and human rights compliant,” said Ms Kelly.
Mr Byrne said that of those stopped and searched between one and four and one and five were arrested. He made clear his conviction that such police powers were necessary while adding, “It needs to be used carefully, and we need to ensure that we are fair but proportionate and work within the law. But at the same time as people have concerns other communities want to see more of it.”
In his speech to the conference Mr Byrne also referred to how he had observed a woman in pyjamas stepping out to observe a riot rather than acting to dissuade the young people from engaging in violence.
He said in such instances he “blamed the parents” for not doing more to prevent their children rioting. “I just found it strange than an adult would sit and watch as if it was an evening’s entertainment rather than intervene to stop (the violence),” he said.
Mr Byrne said he remained optimistic that he could assist in persuading more Catholics to apply to and join the PSNI, and that also applied to more women and more people from different ethnic backgrounds.
Mr Byrne said “the time is not now for 50:50” Catholic: Protestant recruitment to bring more people from a nationalist background into the PSNI. “But equally not knowing where we might go in the next couple of years it would be premature to rule it out,” he added.
It would be a political decision regardless and in his opinion would be “an intervention of last resort”.
Asked were the PSNI prepared for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit he said, “We are as ready as we can be.”
He said that on Tuesday he sat down with his senior commanders to plan for what unfolds. “Up to now I have seen nothing to suggest we are not match fit but equally I am old enough and long in the tooth enough to know that no plan survives contact with the enemy.”