PSNI chief accuses Mary Lou McDonald of ‘poor leadership’

Remarks follows SF leader’s comments on confidence in any potential successor to chief

The Northern Ireland chief constable George Hamilton has strongly rebuked the Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald for saying no one within the force is fit to take on the position of PSNI chief.

Mr Hamilton after a meeting of the North’s Policing Board on Tuesday accused Ms McDonald of “poor leadership” over her remarks last week that no one within the senior ranks of the PSNI was capable of taking on the post of chief constable when he retires in June.

“I think Mary Lou McDonald was wrong, I think she was inaccurate and I think it was an act of poor leadership and it has a very detrimental impact on policing and on the peace we are all trying to build,” Mr Hamilton told reporters after Tuesday’s meeting.

Ms MacDonald issued her comment on Monday week after she met senior PSNI officers – some of who could be candidates for the chief constable post – to discuss the PSNI’s failure to disclose to the North’s Police Ombudsman “significant, sensitive information” about Troubles-related killings.


Ms McDonald said after that meeting, “Is there somebody inside who I think should be the chief constable? And I have to answer honestly that no, I cannot identify such a person.”

In face of criticism that she had compromised the recruitment process for chief constable Ms McDonald stood by her remarks.

Unfair comments

On Tuesday after his meeting with the board Mr Hamilton said whoever was the “best candidate” from inside or outside the PSNI should get the job and that he had “every confidence” in his senior colleagues.

He was very forthright in his criticism of Ms McDonald.

“I think the comments were the antithesis of all that Sinn Féin say they stand for. They say they stand for equality, for fairness, for integrity, and I can’t think of anything further away from those qualities in what the party president said,” he said.

“She said what she said, it’s up to her to own those words and explain them – I think they were misplaced,” said Mr Hamilton.

“To have the party president exclude all eligible candidates from within the ranks of the Police Service of Northern Ireland doesn’t feel like fair, or transparent or non-discriminatory to me,” he added.

“I think it has got us into an unfortunate pickle, it would be far better if wiser words, more measured words had been used and words that did not contaminate or interfere with the selection process,” said Mr Hamilton.

Asked was he due an apology by Ms McDonald he replied, “That’s a matter for her. I don’t think we’re going to get that.”

He added, “More important than the offence she caused internally, I think whenever someone in leadership stands up and talks about the police being undemocratic, cynical and all the other very negative terms, how could we not be surprised if there’s a problem with confidence in policing?”

Ms McDonald’s comments prompted the Policing Board to seek legal advice on their implications for the chief constable selection process while the North’s Equality Commission raised concerns about “fair employment” and recruiting “in a non-discriminatory way”.

‘Fair and open’ process

The board is comprised of ten political and nine independent representatives. Normally at least one Sinn Féin member would sit on the interview board.

The PSNI’s representative association, the Police Federation however warned of a possible legal challenge from PSNI candidates were a Sinn Féin board member to be on the interview panel.

Sinn Féin policing spokesman and policing board member Gerry Kelly directly after Mr Hamilton spoke to the press accused the chief constable of being “political” in his comments.

Mr Kelly said the interview process would be “fair and open” and that the selection panel would choose the next chief constable on the basis of “merit”.

SDLP board member Dolores Kelly said Sinn Féin had dug “a hole” both for themselves and the board. “They’ve done damage to the hard-won equality legislation and principles of fair employment that the SDLP and many others fought for over many years coming from the civil rights movement,” she said after the meeting.

The PSNI has apologised for the non-disclosure failure which it insisted was not deliberate. A review of its disclosure practices is to be carried out by the North’s Criminal Justice Inspectorate.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times