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DUP West Tyrone MLA and Policing Board representative Tom Buchanan has said the PSNI’s examination of the Sinn Fein Covid grant scandal must continue.

Commenting after raising the issue with the Chief Constable during a meeting of the Policing Board, Mr Buchanan said:

‘‘The public in Northern Ireland are understandably asking if Sinn Fein’s failure to return these grants for almost seven months constituted a criminal offence. I welcome the Chief Constable’s confirmation that this issue continues to be actively considered. The PSNI has requested information from the relevant Departments and this will inform next steps taken. Any criminal investigation, ultimately however, is a matter for the police rather than the civil service.

It is also constructive that the independent investigation into the Bobby Storey funeral is ongoing. For community confidence, it is vital this process is allowed to run its course and any findings made known.’’

North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey attended Thursday’s Policing Board meeting via zoom as he is self-isolating, afterwards he said:

‘‘Between 23 March and 18 October recorded crime fell by 14.9% on previous year. Notable exceptions during this period were the areas of domestic crime and anti-social behaviour.

Although the sharp rise in anti-social behavior may in part by explained by Covid related breaches being recorded, it is clear there exist serious policing challenges to detecting rising cases of domestic abuse and violence.

This requires not just a policing response but joined-up thinking right across the criminal justice system.

The Assembly will again debate the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill next week. It is vital that we give voice to those trapped and victimised by these awful crimes and enhance the tools available to law enforcement and the courts as soon as possible.’’

DUP South Antrim MLA Trevor Clarke concluded:

‘‘This meeting was a useful opportunity to ask important questions about the resilience of the PSNI workforce, given the impact of the virus on absence rates. Whilst I am encouraged that the number of officers and staff off work has declined, it is important that the PSNI takes on board any learning from the pandemic to support a sustainable staff structure long into the future.

I also raised the potential impact of any changes to the licensing law or opening hours on the PSNI budget and resources. The workforce was already under severe constraints before the pandemic and any changes which would affect policing levels should be carefully considered. This is even more important given the Justice Minister's failure to date to meet the existing NDNA commitment of 7,500 full-time police officers.

It is important that the Chief Constable makes available all relevant data and evidence in order to allow the Assembly to take a balanced position on these issues.’’