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PSNI chief criticised for posing beside officers armed with machine guns for 'Christmas message' from Crossmaglen

Both the SDLP and Sinn Féin have criticised the Christmas Day Twitter post.

PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne, centre, alongside officers in Crossmaglen.
PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne, centre, alongside officers in Crossmaglen.
Image: PSNI

PSNI CHIEF SIMON Byrne has been criticised for posing alongside machine-gun-armed officers outside a police station in Crossmaglen.

Byrne, the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, tweeted a Christmas Day message that showed him alongside officers stationed in the Armagh village. 

Two of the officers standing beside Byrne are armed with machine guns. 

“On Christmas morning great to meet the team policing Crossmaglen,” he wrote on Twitter. 

“I take my hat off to colleagues policing such a unique part of @PoliceServiceNI”, he said. “Their sense of duty & optimism is inspiring. Stay safe and thank you.”

Byrne also posted photos of the heavily fortified station. 

The photo and accompanying message prompted criticism on Twitter of Byrne, who took over the role of chief constable in May. 

In recent months, Byrne has warned of the dangers of Brexit and the potential for a hard border between Ireland and the North to inflame paramilitary behaviour

Crossmaglen and the wider south Armagh area was a major republican stronghold during the Troubles. Situated just on the border and dominated by armoured towers, the wider south Armagh region was one of the most militarised places anywhere in the North during the decades-long conflict. 

One army base overlooked Crossmaglen GAA grounds and the demilitarisation of the area was one of the key demands of Sinn Féin in the negotiations over power-sharing.

The UK government removed the last of its armoured towers at Crossmaglen police station in February 2007.

Social Democratic and Labour Party councillor Pete Byrne, who lives in Crossmaglen, said that people had been “hurt and offended” by the post. 

He said that he has sought an urgent meeting with the chief constable. 

“This isn’t an ill judged tweet, the wording appears to be a deliberate attempt to set Crossmaglen and South Armagh as a place apart,” he said. 

Byrne said that progress had been achieved in recent years in improving relations with the PSNI in the area. 

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. 

“The chief constable is happy to meet with any community or political representative who has a positive contribution to make about local policing matters,” a PSNI spokesperson told TheJournal.ie.

Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy said that the post was “utterly unacceptable” and warned that it would undermine public confidence in the police force.

“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,” he said. 

“This community is no different to any other, any attempt to differentiate the style of policing has not and will not be tolerated,” Murphy added. 

Other politicians offered support to Byrne.

Fine Gael senator Frank Feighan, who is the vice-chair of the British-Irish parliamentary assembly, wrote on Twitter: “We visited PSNI in Crossmaglen in June for British Irish Parliamentary Assembly report on illicit trade. Very impressed by the welcome from Police Officers & thanked them for their service in a very difficult policing environment.”

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