Sunak expected in Northern Ireland during Biden visit, police chief says

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to be in Northern Ireland during the visit of US President Joe Biden to the region, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has said.

A major operation to police a series of events around the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement will cost around £7 million and see 300 police officers travel from other parts of the UK to Northern Ireland.

The White House confirmed this week that Mr Biden would visit the island of Ireland next week, with his visit beginning in Belfast to coincide with the anniversary of the historic peace deal.

Mr Byrne confirmed that Mr Biden would arrive in Northern Ireland on Tuesday evening and leave on Wednesday during a briefing to the Policing Board in Belfast.

Police officer shot in Omagh
PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne briefed the Policing Board on the operation surrounding President Biden’s visit (Liam McBurney/PA)

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd also said that Mr Biden and Mr Sunak would both fly into Northern Ireland on Tuesday evening.

“They will be involved in a number of events throughout the following day, Wednesday the 12th,” the assistant chief constable told reporters in Belfast.

Mr Todd said that although this was the biggest policing operation the organisation has undertaken in nearly 10 years, the aim was to keep disruption to a minimum.

“Our intention is obviously to deliver safe and secure events and to maintain business as usual, as far as we possibly can, across Northern Ireland throughout these busy operational periods,” he said.

“The arrival of the Prime Minister and the President… will be a significant operation of a size that we won’t have seen in Northern Ireland since the G8 in 2013, and indeed elements of the operation will actually be more impactful than we saw then.

“So in terms of the number of movements of protected persons and vehicle escorts etc, it’s a very significant operation.

“But we’ve been planning for this for a number of weeks, as you can imagine. We’ve prepared for all the various contingencies. Our style and tone that we’ll be delivering around this policing operation will be remaining a community-focused style policing that you’ll be used to seeing in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Byrne said that the second phase of the policing operation will be between April 17 and 19, when a number of politicians who were in office when the Good Friday Agreement was signed will attend further events.

He said a high-profile cyber conference was also happening in Belfast at the same time.

He added: “The policing operation will be significant and our role, obviously, is to facilitate all of these events in a safe way and to provide protection to the variety of visitors, politicians and participants, and also to keep the venues safe.

“Mindful of the threat level, a theme which runs throughout these plans is to assure the safety of our officers and staff while we continue to police the country.”

Mr Byrne said the PSNI did not have the capacity to resource all of the events without assistance from other forces.

“Some of the examples will be specialist motorcycle escort officers, firearms specialists and search specialists.

“You will see people from other parts of the UK here.

“Clearly this will drain the resource available for day-to-day policing and also put an additional cost pressure into our already-stretched budget.

“We assess it will be in the region of £7 million to police the events over the next few days.”

Mr Todd said the PSNI would initially shoulder the £7 million cost of the policing operation, but added he would hope to recoup some of that in the future.

“In terms of funding, yes, it will be an expensive operation, we’re bringing in approximately 300 officers from across UK policing to support us in some of the specialist roles in particular,” he said.

“So that’s things like protection roles and escorts, VIP escorts, motorcycles, that sort of thing, searching those venues etc.

“So all of that costs money, we anticipate at the moment is somewhere in the region of £7 million. But that could go up, it could go down as the itinerary is hardened and we know exactly what it is we’re going to be dealing with.

“We’ve captured the cost of all of that, we deal with it in the here and now, and we look to recover costs as best we possibly can. But the funding streams will be down to others but we will obviously be collecting that and we will be seeking to recover what we can.”

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