Chief Constable’s Christmas Day tweet ‘a PR disaster’
Local politicians are to meet with the PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne tomorrow (Tuesday) to discuss the fallout from his controversial post on social media on Christmas Day, which pictured heavily armed officers posing outside Crossmaglen police station.
The photo was taken during a visit to the base by the chief constable and was accompanied by his message: “On Christmas morning great to meet the team policing Crossmaglen @psninmdown. I take my hat off to colleagues policing such a unique part of @policeserviceni. Their sense of duty & optimism is inspiring. Stay safe and thank you.”
The post drew immediate reaction from politicians, the public and some sections of the media where it was described as inappropriate, offensive and “a PR disaster”.
Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy says he will be using Tuesday’s meeting to tell the Chief Constable “that he needs to change the PSNI approach to policing in south Armagh after the most recent regrettable damaging of public confidence”.
Mr Murphy described the Twitter post as “offensive to the local community and utterly unacceptable”.
“It has only served to further undermine the public confidence in the PSNI within south Armagh,” he said. “The heavily armed officers posing with the Chief Constable is reflective of the militaristic style of policing that the community in south Armagh has had to endure in recent years. This community is no different to any other, any attempt to differentiate the style of policing has not and will not be tolerated.”
SDLP councillor Pete Byrne said people were “hurt and offended” by the Tweet, claiming the wording appeared to be “a deliberate attempt to set Crossmaglen and south Armagh as a place apart”.
“While we all appreciate police officers and other emergency services working on Christmas Day, questions must be asked about the nature of this post. Language and images like this flies in the face of the positive work that has been achieved,” he said.
Responding to the criticism, Chf Const. Byrne defended his post and said: “The officers are carrying weapons and, sadly, this is the stark reality of the policing environment they work in, tackling the severe terrorist threat. This is no reflection on the local community who work daily with their local police officers to create a safe community.
“There is no doubt that much progress has been made in the towns and villages of south Armagh and my Christmas Day visit to officers who are working really hard to contribute to this progress is an indication of my commitment to build safer communities and tackle the terrorist threat.”