Karen Bradley pledges movement on key NI appointments

Northern Secretary’s commitment for Westminster to act in absence of Stormont

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley ‘has instructed officials’ to work on legislation to allow ‘UK government Ministers’ to make pressing appointments to leading public bodies in NI.  File photograph: PA

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley ‘has instructed officials’ to work on legislation to allow ‘UK government Ministers’ to make pressing appointments to leading public bodies in NI. File photograph: PA

 

The head of the North’s Policing Board has welcomed a commitment from the Northern Secretary Karen Bradley that she is planning to introduce legislation through Westminster to make the board fully functioning again.

Ms Bradley confirmed on Wednesday that in the continuing absence of a powersharing Northern Executive she will take what some will perceive as British direct rule action to make important public appointments in Northern Ireland.

Ms Bradley “has instructed officials” to work on legislation over the summer that would allow “UK government Ministers” to make pressing appointments to leading public bodies, she confirmed.

In the absence of Stormont returning, the legislation would allow “crucial appointments” to be made to the Policing Board, the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland.

“The UK Government’s priority is to restore the devolved institutions at Stormont. In the meantime, I have been clear that I will continue to take any urgent and necessary action to protect good governance and the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland,” she said.

“I hope that an accommodation can be reached and an Executive formed so that Northern Ireland Ministers can make these important appointments in the autumn. If not, I am prepared to bring forward legislation to enable these appointments to be made to ensure that these bodies can continue their vital work,” she added.

Policing Board

Most pressing for Ms Bradley is to re-establish the 19-member Policing Board. Currently it has just six members as, in the absence of a Minister for Justice due to the collapse of Stormont, its ten political members could not be appointed last year.

Furthermore, three of the nine independent members have reached the end of their contracts.

And without a Northern Executive in place the depleted board has no legal authority to carry out its remit, overseeing the PSNI.

This includes appointing a replacement for deputy PSNI chief constable Drew Harris, who is taking over as Garda Commissioner, and appointing a new assistant chief constable to replace Will Kerr, who is taking up a senior role with Police Scotland.

In announcing her plan Ms Bradley said, “While work on this legislation continues over the summer, the UK government will continue to engage closely with the political parties, and the Irish government as appropriate, to encourage and support work towards an accommodation to restore the Executive.”

The chairwoman of the Policing Board Anne Connolly said the statement provided “welcome confirmation of the need to get the board constituted and new members appointed”.

“Whilst I, along with independent members and colleagues have been working to keep the structures of police accountability in place, without a legally constituted membership the Board’s range of statutory duties, including senior officer appointments, could not be discharged,” said Ms Connolly.

“The prevailing situation has been deeply concerning and frustrating for me as board chair as there are many issues that need to be addressed and progressed,” she added.