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Northern Ireland’s police chief resigned on Monday, bowing to pressure from officers, staff and politicians for his actions in disciplining officers two years ago that compounded outrage over a major data breach last month.

Chief constable Simon Byrne tendered his resignation at an emergency meeting of the policing board, the oversight body for the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Byrne said in a statement that it was “now time for someone new to lead this proud and resolute organisation”.

His resignation came after the High Court in Belfast last week highlighted possible political interference in disciplinary action taken against two junior officers in 2021. The incident happened at the commemoration of a notorious attack by pro-UK loyalist paramilitaries during the region’s three decades-long Troubles conflict.

Byrne initially accepted the high court ruling, but after a marathon questioning by the policing board last week, announced he might appeal. That was the last straw for many of the PSNI’s nearly 10,000 officers and staff, who were already outraged over the massive data breach by the force in August.

Their personal details were accidentally posted by the PSNI itself on the internet in a blunder that some fear could put them at risk in a region where violent republican groups still target police officers.

Byrne quit before facing at least one planned vote of no confidence in the coming days.

Liam Kelly, chair of the police federation that represents rank-and-file officers, said Byrne’s position had become “questionable and then untenable”.

He added: “Morale has never been lower in the service . . . Whoever succeeds Mr Byrne has a mountain to climb to . . . restore credibility.”

The chief constable, who was decorated in 2016 for services to UK policing, had been head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland since 2019 and had recently had his term extended until 2027.

Known for his tenacity, he vowed last week not to resign.

Byrne, who served previously in the Merseyside, Manchester and Metropolitan police forces, was suspended as chief constable of Cheshire Constabulary in 2017 after allegations of bullying and humiliating staff. He was cleared in 2018 of all 74 misconduct allegations made against him.

But a series of mis-steps — including posing with heavily armed officers in the heart of what was dubbed “Bandit Country” during the Troubles — dogged his tenure in Belfast. A funding crisis has also reduced staff numbers and further sapped morale.

The latest scandal broke last week when a judicial review found the PSNI had unlawfully disciplined two officers in 2021 because of a “real or perceived” threat that nationalist party Sinn Féin would remove support for the police unless it did so.

Sinn Féin has denied any such move.

Policing was overhauled after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement ended the Troubles, which involved pro-Irish unity republican paramilitaries, pro-UK loyalist paramilitaries and British security forces.

But the latest scandals have exposed the force’s struggle to recruit and retain Catholic and nationalist officers, and there were reports of poor internal communications and other failings.

“You can appoint a new chief constable but those problems aren’t going to go away,” said Edward Burke, assistant professor at University College Dublin who specialises in political violence.

Replacing Byrne would pose another problem too: a new chief constable would need to be ratified by the justice minister, but Northern Ireland has no government in place because of a protest by the Democratic Unionist party, the region’s largest pro-UK party, over Brexit.

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