Secretary of State slammed by Police Federation NI as ‘out of touch’

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The Northern Ireland Secretary has been slammed by a rank and file police officers’ representative organisation as being “out of touch”.

Liam Kelly, chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI), said Chris Heaton-Harris has declined two invitations to discuss policing with them in the ongoing absence of locally elected ministers amid the collapse of the Assembly.

Addressing the PFNI’s annual conference, Mr Kelly said Mr Heaton-Harris also turned down an invitation to attend that very event.

Northern Ireland budget
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris (Liam McBurney/PA)

“When push comes to shove, it is clear that if the policing crisis doesn’t impact on Conservative seats, it doesn’t make it on to the political Richter scale.”

Mr Kelly also challenged Stormont’s politicians to “get back to work” and deliver for policing.

Delegations to the conference heard a prediction that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) could shrink to 6,000 by the end of the financial year – the lowest number of officers since it was formed in 2001.

Police officer shot in Omagh
Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Simon Byrne (Liam McBurney/PA)

He said this could result in a total recruitment freeze, cuts to overtime, closing police stations and inquiry offices and grounding some of the police fleet.

Mr Kelly said by contrast there are 20,000 additional officers in England and Wales, at a time when the threat level in Northern Ireland has been classed as “severe”.

“Even when we had an Executive, it too failed to deliver on policing,” he said.

“We sought a three-year budget to give stability and allow for forward planning. It didn’t happen.

“It never materialised and now we could quickly end up with 6,000 officers. The track record of local ministers is every bit as disappointing as their Westminster counterparts.

“Selective withdrawals from the Executive can no longer be tolerated. If that means going back to the drawing board to remove vetoes, then so be it.

“Northern Ireland cannot afford to be held back by this crude device.

“If there is a problem, sort it out across the table. Walking away isn’t the solution.

“We want real and effective government. A realistic and effective three-year budget for the service.

“An end to stop-start local government that results in our inability to maximise, locally, nationally and internationally, the promises, future and hope envisioned from the 1998 Agreement.

Liam Kelly interview
Liam Kelly, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (Peter Morrison/PA)

“There’s nothing further to be gained by continuing your squabbling. Letting the cobwebs take hold in Parliament Buildings and in all government departments will merely serve to further alienate and make people feel despondent.”

During his conference address, Mr Kelly also extended best wishes to senior detective John Caldwell and his family as he continues his recovery.

Detective Chief Inspector Caldwell was shot a number of times in an attempted murder bid at a sports centres in Co Tyrone attributed to dissident republicans.

Meanwhile during his speech Mr Kelly called for the introduction of time limits for discipline investigations, voiced concern at the rise in assaults on officers, as well as calling for enhanced personal safety training courses for front line officers; the wider roll-out of Taser and stiffer sentencing by the courts.

A Northern Ireland Office spokesperson responded, saying: “The UK Government fully supports the excellent work that the Police Service of Northern Ireland undertakes to keep people in Northern Ireland safe, often in exceptionally challenging circumstances. 

“Policing in NI and police funding are primarily devolved matters. It is for the devolved administration to determine the allocation of funding to the PSNI from the Northern Ireland Executive (NIE) block grant.

“The prioritisation of police resourcing is the responsibility of the Department of Justice, working with the wider NIE.”

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