Simon Byrne has been named as the new Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The Englishman will replace the retiring George Hamilton and has prior knowledge of the PSNI and its recruitment process from research experience while a member of the Metropolitan Police.
Byrne was appointed to the £207,000 per annum job unanimously by a panel of seven members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, on which Sinn Féin, the DUP, UUP and the Alliance Party were represented after SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly withdrew for personal reasons. During the recruitment process, he was the only candidate who attended a familiarisation day organised by the Policing Board. Byrne had been on a final four-man shortlist in competition with former Bedfordshire Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, current temporary Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI Stephen Martin and PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton.
The 56-year-old assumes the role with 36 years of policing experience, with the last 12 of those having been at the chief officer level. Byrne held senior positions within Merseyside, Greater Manchester and the Metropolitan Police before becoming Chief Constable of Cheshire Police in 2014. He left the post in 2017 after his contract expired while he was under suspension due to an investigation being conducted into 74 allegations of misconduct, largely said to be allegations of abusive behaviour towards staff.
The investigating panel found the allegations against Byrne to have been unproven and said that the investigation “could and should have been avoided”. The panel’s report stated that they had found Byrne to be a “driver of high standards”, who possessed an “energetic and challenging style”. Speaking after the announcement of Byrne as Hamilton’s successor, Policing Board chair Anne Connolly said that Byrne had made the board aware that he had been subject to “unfounded allegations” during the recruitment process.
One of the biggest questions hanging over policing in Northern Ireland, the status of legacy investigations and whether they will be handed over to a new Historical Investigations Unit, will linger in the atmosphere as Byrne adjusts to his new settings, but any decision on this will be outside of his remit and subject to political decision making. Another political hurdle for the new appointee to navigate will be the issue of Brexit and the policing of the border, which will require liaising with former PSNI Deputy Constable, now Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris.
Another seemingly ever-present issue within the PSNI for Byrne to face will be the recruitment of Catholics into policing, although this is a subject that he should have some knowledge of, given that he had studied PSNI reforms aimed at recruiting Catholics when trying to boost the recruitment of ethnic minorities in the Metropolitan Police.
Hamilton, who was appointed Chief Constable in June 2014, announced his intention to retire upon the expiry of his current contract in January 2019. Hamilton joined the RUC in 1985, rising through its and then the PSNI’s ranks until 2009, when he joined Strathclyde Police. He served as Assistant Chief Constable of the PSNI upon his return in 2011 before moving up once more to become Chief Constable.