The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s handling of the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey last year is to be reviewed.
The PSNI has come under fire this week following a decision by the Public Prosecution Service not to pursue prosecutions against 24 Sinn Fein members who attended the funeral despite coronavirus restrictions against gatherings.
The PPS pointed to police engagement with the funeral planners as one reason why any prosecution would likely fail as well as the repeatedly changing and inconsistent nature of Stormont’s coronavirus regulations.
Chief Constable Simon Byrne has faced calls to resign by First Minister Arlene Foster over the matter.
On Thursday, Northern Ireland Policing Board chairman Doug Garrett said a request is to be made for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to look at the PSNI’s role in the funeral.
He said members of the board agreed to request that Justice Minister Naomi Long commission a “bespoke thematic inspection into the PSNI’s handling of the policing of the funeral, its operational decision making, application of the law in the context of the Covid-19 regulations, and review the PSNI policy and procedures around police engagement with organisers and consistency of approach given the findings of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).”
Appearing remotely before a meeting of the board, Mr Byrne said he welcomed the prospect of a review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, “as an independent body to come in and help us get an objective understanding of what went on”.
Mr Byrne said police understood and sympathised with the hurt, concern and anger felt by many who complied with the Covid regulations over the last year.
“I recognise that the events surrounding the policing of this funeral have caused outrage and have damaged confidence in policing,” he told the board.
“I’m listening. But I’m confident that my officers have acted with good intent and integrity managing what was always going to be a sensitive policing operation.”
Mr Byrne said recent days have seen the “most extreme manifestation of the difficulties that policing has faced in trying to balance the dilemmas that fall out of the Covid regulations”.
“It’s a huge regret about the public reaction to the PPS decision, we were surprised,” he said.
Asked about claims of Loyalist anger at police, Mr Byrne said they are determined to build trust and relationships.
“I can’t pretend the impact that this decision has had on community relations, in the Loyalist community predominantly, and we need to take the time now to make sense of that, to allow HMIC to get to the heart of just what happened, that might help begin the process of building a bridge,” he said.
Northern Ireland’s chief constable also reiterated that he has no plans to resign.
He referred to the Patten Report 20 years ago seeking to separate politics from policing, adding it is a “shame we are now in a situation where politics and policing have collided”.
“My job is to try and deliver the operational service to people right across Northern Ireland, and I am determined to keep doing that … and to rebuild relationships because I am not a quitter,” he added.