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Report: Should Northern Irish police be armed?

January 18, 2023

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A new report raises the question of whether Northern Irish police officers should continue to be armed when the threat level in the province is dropping.

Currently all Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) carry weapons.

The study highlights the fact guns are rarely fired might lead to a review of automatic issue of Glock handguns.

The PSNI replaced the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in the wake of the Good Friday peace agreement which brought to an end 25 years of bloody conflict on the province’s streets.

Guns have only been fired five times in five years.

It is a far cry from the days of the Troubles when all Army and police personnel had to be armed.

RUC officers, both full-time and reservists, were targeted by the Provisional IRA, a terrorist outfit dedicated to the cause of a united Ireland. Its political wing, Sinn Fein, later forged a peaceful democratic path.

The Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB) report states: “In Northern Ireland, the chief constable has given standing authority for all officers, subject to successful training, to be issued with a personal issue handgun which may be carried when officers are both on and off duty.

“In the rest of the UK, only highly-trained authorised firearms officers (AFO) carry firearms.”

The board said officers may only fire the gun if they believe it is absolutely necessary to save life or prevent serious injury.

Afterwards, all discharges of a firearm must be referred to the Police Ombudsman.

The report said: “The use of firearms has fluctuated over the course of the past ten years.

“Firearms were drawn 364 times in 2012/13, compared with 440 times in 2021/22.

“Firearms have only been discharged five times over the past ten years.

The Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB) states: “In Northern Ireland, the chief constable has given standing authority for all officers, subject to successful training, to be issued with a personal issue handgun which may be carried when officers are both on and off duty.

“In the rest of the UK, only highly trained authorised firearms officers (AFO) carry firearms.”

The report said that officers can lawfully discharge a firearm only when they believe it is absolutely necessary to do so in order to save life or prevent serious injury.

All discharges of a firearm must be referred to the Police Ombudsman.

The report said: “The use of firearms has fluctuated over the course of the past ten years.

“Firearms were drawn 364 times in 2012/13, compared with 440 times in 2021/22. Firearms have only been discharged five times over the past ten years.”

Chair of the Policing Board, Deirdre Toner, said: “The findings and recommendations made in these latest detailed reports reinforce the importance of oversight, ensuring the Police Service continues to meets its human rights responsibilities and delivers a rights-based approach in all aspects of its service.

“The police have access to an extensive range of powers to support delivery of their duties.

“It is therefore essential for confidence in the service that the public can be assured police powers are being used both legitimately and proportionately.

“The findings and recommendations made within these reports also helps ensure that knowledge and understanding of the impact human rights has on policing increases within the service and the wider community.”

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said: “Human rights are central to everything we do as police officers and the oversight provided by the Policing Board is key to maintaining public confidence in policing.

“We will continue to work alongside the Policing Board’s independent human rights adviser as we consider and respond to the content of these wide-ranging reports.”

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