Simon Byrne has resigned as chief constable of the PSNI following a string of controversies, stating that it is time for someone new to lead policing in Northern Ireland.
The news that the embattled police chief has left with immediate effect was announced at a press conference on Monday following an emergency meeting of the PSNI’s oversight body, the Policing Board.
The board continued to meet for several hours following the news.
Speaking on Monday evening, board chair Deirdre Toner said members had agreed to prioritise the recruitment of a new chief constable, and that Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton will exercise the functions of the top role in the interim.
They also agreed to initiate a review of the Senior Leadership Team of the PSNI and request the Department of Justice commissions a review of the Policing Board.
“There is a strong commitment and desire within the Board to bring stability to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the steps agreed above are designed to do this, as well as deal with concerns that have been expressed around the operation of the Policing Board,” she said.
Mr Byrne’s resignation has been welcomed by DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who said it was the “first step” in rebuilding confidence in the force, and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who said confidence in Mr Byrne had been “irreparably shattered”.
He had faced a number of challenges in recent weeks, including the fallout from a major PSNI data breach, in which the names and details of all officers and staff members were mistakenly released online.
His troubles deepened last week when High Court judge Mr Justice Scoffield ruled that two junior officers were unlawfully disciplined for an arrest made at a Troubles commemoration event in 2021.
The judge said they had been disciplined to allay a threat that Sinn Fein could withdraw its support for policing. Sinn Fein has insisted there was no such threat.
Mr Byrne had originally insisted that he would not resign but has now reversed that decision in the face of growing pressure from politicians and his own officers.
At the press conference on Monday afternoon, Ms Toner said Mr Byrne had tendered his resignation with immediate effect.
She said: “I have informed the board of the resignation at a special meeting this afternoon.
“I would like to record my thanks and appreciation to Simon for his work over the course of the last four years as chief constable.
“He is undoubtedly a dedicated police officer with a deep respect for the profession of policing.”
In a statement read out on his behalf at the press conference by Ms Toner, Mr Byrne said it was “time for someone new to lead the PSNI”.
The statement said: “The last few days have been very difficult for all concerned.
“Regardless of the rights and wrongs, it is now time for someone new to lead this proud and resolute organisation.
“Can I thank those who have shown me trust, advice and friendship, and, of course, thanks to the brave men and women of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.”
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey said: “We welcome the decision by the chief constable to step down.
“It is the right thing to do following last week’s ruling by Mr Justice Schofield that the PSNI senior command unlawfully disciplined two of its own officers to appease Sinn Fein.
“Fair and even-handed policing is just as foundational to progress in Northern Ireland as fully functioning political institutions operating on a cross-community basis.
“Public confidence has been damaged, but so too was confidence amongst rank-and-file officers in the police leadership.”
Mr Eastwood said: “Policing in Northern Ireland is in a very difficult place right now.
“Successive crises have left confidence in the chief constable shattered from all directions.
“His resignation today was the right thing to do and was necessary to begin to address the serious issues facing the PSNI.”
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris thanked Mr Byrne for his work and said he would liaise with the PSNI as a successor was appointed.
Liam Kelly, chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, said Mr Byrne’s position had become untenable.
He added: ““The Ormeau Road judicial review and the shocking potential course of action following the Policing Board was the final straw for Mr Byrne.
“The ruling was damning and his initial acceptance followed by a volte face around a potential legal appeal grievously undermined his credibility and authority to lead the PSNI.
“It called into question his judgment, decision-making abilities and made his position untenable.
“Mr Byrne has now done the right thing.”
“It is clear now that a full investigation is required into these matters to determine whether anyone else should be held to account for this fiasco for policing.
“This was an operational matter which should have been the exclusive responsibility of the service, free from political or external pressure or, indeed, interference.”
The Policing Board was continuing to meet on Monday evening as the process of identifying Mr Byrne’s replacement begins.
Mr Byrne had been facing huge pressure following the major data breach from the PSNI last month.
Personal data on all serving members of the PSNI was mistakenly published in response to a freedom of information request.
Details of around 10,000 PSNI officers and staff included the surname and first initial of every employee, their rank or grade, where they are based and the unit they work in.
The PSNI has confirmed the list is in the hands of dissident republicans, who continue to target officers.