DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP has impressed upon the Chief Constable Simon Byrne the need for the PSNI to re-engage with unionist communities that have lost a degree of confidence in local policing. They held a constructive meeting on Thursday morning in Parliament Buildings, Stormont.
Also attending the meeting was DUP Deputy Leader Paula Bradley MLA, First Minister Paul Givan MLA, DUP Policing Board representatives, Trevor Clarke & Joanne Bunting, Justice Committee Chairman Mervyn Storey MLA, William Humphrey MLA (North Belfast), William Irwin MLA (Newry & Armagh) and Councillor Brian Kingston.
Speaking afterwards, he said:
‘‘I welcomed this early opportunity to speak openly and frankly with the Chief Constable about the considerable challenges facing policing across Northern Ireland in what remains an extremely turbulent social and political climate.
First and foremost, as we approach to the annual Twelfth demonstrations, I stressed the need for a calm and common-sense policing approach as communities and families gather to celebrate their cultural traditions. The mistakes of the past must not be repeated.
There can be no denying that the PSNI’s handling of the Bobby Storey funeral has had profound implications for public confidence. There is a growing belief that the rule of law is not being applied equally or fairly. Within unionist and loyalist communities’ concerns about two-tier policing are not only legitimate but widespread. I made it clear to Simon Byrne that the PSNI must meaningfully re-engage those who have become disillusioned over recent months. The PSNI approach to protests against the Protocol must be even-handed and communication with key stakeholders must be better. He will ultimately be judged not by mere words or good intentions but by tangible differences in the tone and style of policing toward members of the community.
An effective and impartial police service is a key pillar of any democratic society and that means it should, as far as is practicable, be reflective of the community it serves. A great deal of attention has been given to the religious breakdown of officers but in recent times there has been a significant underrepresentation of working-class Protestants within the PSNI workforce. This cannot go under the radar any longer. The PSNI should not be a cold house for young people in any community. More accessible routes to a career in policing must be provided for those from working-class Protestant areas as a priority.
Finally, I expressed deep concern in relation of the South Armagh Policing Review, which was instigated by the PSNI at the behest of nationalists and now threatens the closure of at least one station serving the area. We have been clear from the start that this type of knee-jerk reaction is no way to make strategic and far-reaching decisions and DUP Policing Board representatives will continue to press for a more balanced outcome going forward.’’