Minister of Justice maintains position on PSNI chief constable appointment rules proposal
First Minister, Deputy First Minister and policing board oppose changes
Northern Ireland Minister of Justice David Ford: “I carried out my functions entirely in accordance with the legislation to leave the policing board to carry out its functions.” Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Northern Ireland’s Minister of Justice David Ford is holding his ground on his proposal to change the rules for appointing the next PSNI chief constable despite opposition from First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and the policing board.
Mr Ford has insisted he is within his rights to alter the appointment criteria by removing the regulation that candidates for the top policing post must have served at least two years outside Northern Ireland at assistant chief constable level. Earlier this month the policing board rejected his proposal to change the legislation.
Mr Ford wrote back to the board asking it to formally explain its legal reason for taking the decision. “I carried out my functions entirely in accordance with the legislation to leave the policing board to carry out its functions. I have nothing that I did wrong; I did it precisely as I should have done it,” Mr Ford said in the Assembly yesterday when questioned about the appointment process by Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Boylan.
The Chief Constable Matt Baggott is retiring in September and the policing board is due to start its process to select a successor next month. Under the current rules only one PSNI officer, Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton, who served as an ACC in Scotland, could apply.
If Mr Ford’s proposal were endorsed it would open the field to senior PSNI candidates such as ACC Drew Harris and ACC Will Kerr. Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie would have been in a position to apply for the post but she is to retire.
Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness, supporting the position of the majority of policing board members, favour holding the appointment process through the current criteria. The DUP and Sinn Féin have the controlling numbers on the Northern Executive and the current likelihood is that the Executive would reject Mr Ford’s proposal. This issue however may cause legal as well as political difficulties.