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'This is the stark reality': PSNI chief defends use of machine guns in Christmas Day tribute photo

The photograph, taken in Crossmaglen in Co Armagh, drew criticism yesterday.

PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne, centre, alongside officers in Crossmaglen
PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne, centre, alongside officers in Crossmaglen
Image: Twitter/@ChiefConPSNI

PSNI CHIEF SIMON Byrne has defended the use of machine-gun-armed officers in a photo he used to send a Christmas Day message.

The image, taken outside Crossmaglen station in Co Armagh, drew criticism yesterday after the force was accused of presenting the area – a traditional republican stronghold – as difficult.

Byrne, who became chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in May, appeared in the photo and also posted images of the heavily fortified station on Twitter in a festive tribute to the force.

And in a statement yesterday evening, he defended the photograph as representative of the reality that officers faced, although he accepted that it “caused some emotion”.

“The officers are carrying weapons and, sadly, this is the stark reality of the policing environment they work in,” he wrote on Twitter.

“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.”

He added that he would meet with community and local representatives to discuss further policing so that further progress to be made to prevent a “high security environment” in the North.

Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy previously described the post as “utterly unacceptable” and warned that it could 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.

With reporting from Dominic McGrath.

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