North’s politicians contacted by PSNI chief in wake of David Amess killing

Simon Byrne spoke to MPs about security after Conservative politician was stabbed

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

The North’s 18 MPs have been contacted by PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne about their personal security in the wake of the suspected terrorist killing of Conservative MP David Amess, Stormont’s Justice Minister has said.

Stormont MLAs and local councillors are also expected to be consulted about possible increased security measures for politicians in the region, as Britain’s home secretary Priti Patel launched a UK-wide review.

The North’s Justice Minister Naomi Long said a balance needs to be struck between protecting elected representatives and allowing them to carry out their duties.

“The chief constable has made contact with MPs in the wake of what has happened in England, to talk to them about their security and their personal safety, and he is also making contact with MLAs and councillors,” she said.

“I think as elected representatives, we want to be accessible, we want to be approachable and it is very difficult to balance that (while) trying to protect yourself and indeed your staff and other people who are with you.”

Ms Long told the BBC’s Sunday Politics there is an ongoing “conversation initially about what can be done, to try to ensure people are safe, but at the same time not locked away from the people they need to engage with.”

East Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson said he and other party colleagues were contacted on Saturday by “a number of senior members of the PSNI” and that the process would extend to the Assembly’s 90 MLAs as well as councillors.

But he warned politicians could not be “entirely cossetted” from the public they are elected to represent.

“There is that incredible tension between needing to be accessible, maintaining that relationship with those who elect us, our constituents, being out in the public, attending public events, and maintaining security,” he said.

“You can provide an additional level of security and some sense of reassurance, but the fact is that as we go about our day-to-day lives something of this nature — I hope it never does — could occur in any setting.”

Mr Robinson said while some of the security analysis might focus on high profile events or events that are publicised in advance “there is nothing that can reach full security and to even try to get to that point erects a huge barrier between you and your constituents and I don’t think that is healthy in our democracy.”

The multiple stabbing of Mr Amess, an MP for Southend West, on Friday during a constituency surgery at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-On-Sea in Essex, was “utterly outrageous” and a “huge stain on our democracy”, said Mr Robinson.

But he added that “we can not insulate ourselves, we can not be entirely cosseted.”

Both Mr Robinson and Ms Long expressed “solidarity” with the North’s Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon after it was reported she was reviewing her security arrangements because of intimidation from anti-vaccine demonstrators.

Ms Mallon told the Sunday Independent four protesters visited her office and filmed an incident, which she described as a “very upsetting” and “very frightening experience”.

“We are now reviewing our security arrangements,” she said.

Ms Long said it is “absolutely abhorrent that people are intimidating and threatening her for trying to protect the public at a time of crisis.”

“It is absolutely disgraceful,” she added.

Ms Long said she too has had to review her own personal security arrangements in the last number of weeks.

“It is an uncomfortable thing to be told you are in danger or that your life is under threat,” she said.

“It is not the first time it has happened. I have had a series of these experiences personally, the first one 19 years ago. I have been in politics for 20 years , and the first death threat I received was 19 years ago.

“So, this isn’t something that has just happened, it has been happening for a long time.”

PSNI acting assistant chief constable Melanie Jones confirmed it has begun “reaching out to local Northern Ireland MPs” as part of Operation Bridger, which was set up after the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016 to increase security for MPs at their homes and offices.

“We are in the process of contacting our local MLAs and will continue to support them by providing crime prevention and personal security advice on an ongoing basis,” she added.

“We encourage all our elected representatives to immediately report any security concerns to police in order to keep themselves, their staff and members of the public attending surgeries safe.”