Flanagan may stay on as Chief Constable
Sir Ronnie Flanagan may remain as Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland until September at least and possibly much longer. He was expected to quit his post earlier and could have gone as early as the end of next month.
Sir Ronnie signalled his intention to step down in November, shortly before a highly critical report was issued by the North's Police Ombudsman, Ms Nuala O'Loan, into police handling of the Omagh bomb investigation. He is expected to reply to severe criticism of the police in general and of him in particular before the end of the month.
Under rules governing selection procedures, the Chief Constable is required to give three months notice to the Policing Board of an intention to resign. However, it was understood he was willing to serve as Chief Constable until the new and detailed process to select a successor was well advanced. The Policing Board will also have to fill the two positions of Assistant Chief Constable, thus lengthening the selection process.
Detailed procedures must be undertaken by the Policing Board in relation to advertising the post, examination of references, panel selection and interviews.
Recruits to the new service are still in training and are not expected to take up their duties on the street until the spring.
A police source pointed out last night that no successor to Sir Ronnie would wish to take up their duties just before the North's marching season.
However, a nationalist member of the Policing Board said all authority concerning Sir Ronnie's departure rested with the board and not the Chief Constable.
The SDLP spokesman on policing, Mr Alex Attwood, said: "All senior police appointments and decisions to continue in-post are exclusively the responsibility of the Policing Board ."
It is understood the board can decide to let Sir Ronnie step down once his notice has been served or it can require him to remain and set terms for his remaining in position.
A unionist board member said it could well take more than six months for the new chief constable to be named.
Mr Fred Cobain said: "Sir Ronnie could stay on through the year if necessary, that would suit us fine. He has all the experience we need."
The Policing Board meets the Chief Constable tomorrow in private session.
It was originally intended for such meetings to be public but, according to a board spokeswoman, this has been reviewed following the Omagh bomb report and the fact that Sir Ronnie's reply to criticisms in it are still awaited. "Once the board has received the report it will decide when and in what form the meetings with the various interested groups will take place," she said.
Pressure is building on the Chief Constable to produce his eagerly anticipated response soon and some, including members of the Policing Board, believe that the time taken by him to reply indicates his difficulty in rebutting Ms O'Loan's findings.