PSNI chief: ‘Children not seen as a weapon in the fight against paramilitary crime’

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The national director for the British Association of Social Workers in Northern Ireland (BASW-NI) has welcomed the news that PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has retracted his comments threatening to remove the children of paramilitaries.

Carolyn Ewart said: “It is not appropriate to use threats about children as a deterrent against paramilitary activity.”

“The decision to remove a child from their parents is always the last resort and is subject to rigorous multidisciplinary assessment.”

PSNI chief Simon Byrne admitted that his earlier suggestion at a conference in Belfast yesterday that the children of paramilitaries could be taken into care has “caused a distraction”.

He said at a meeting of the Policing Board today “that he was not suggesting children can be used as weapons in the fight against paramilitary crime”.

Mr Byrne said he was happy to withdraw “the interpretation that children are pawns, if that’s what’s been heard”, adding: “It wasn’t my intention.”

Mr Byrne said he recognised that his “enthusiasm to talk in sound bites has caused a distraction” and insisted that he was “not trying to describe a blanket policy and I was certainly not trying to see children as a weapon in the fight against paramilitary crime.”

The chief constable had earlier said at a conference at Queen’s University, which discussed stop and search powers, “that his message to paramilitaries was: “You carry on doing this and we will have your house, if you keep going we will have your car, we will have your kids, we will have your benefits and we will put you in jail.”

Academic Dr John Topping from Queen’s University, who attended the event which discussed stop and search policing, said: “As the dust settles from the chief constable’s comments around removing children from families in relation to paramilitary activity, it has become clear that his statement was both short-sighted, unenforceable, and lacked any recourse to policing in the best interests of children. 

“While he has essentially withdrawn the comment at the Policing Board meeting, it has been a salutary lesson, by Mr Byrne’s own admission at the meeting, that ‘sound-bite’ commentary does not sit well within the fractious policing environment in the country.

“While the sentiment related to putting pressure on paramilitary individuals and groups, it is a key reminder that language and symbolism remain ever-important.”

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