Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

David Ford was right to widen trawl for new chief constable

Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie

The ideal solution to the row over the replacement of Matt Baggott as chief constable would be if the Executive, which meets today, backs David Ford's decision to tweak the minimum criteria for the PSNI's top job. Judith Gillespie (above) could then delay her resignation as Deputy Chief Constable and throw her hat in the ring – if she wishes.

Everyone has a point. It is desirable that, all things being equal, a Chief Constable should have served at least two years at senior command level outside Northern Ireland. We need new ideas in our police service; there is a danger of becoming insular without them. At the same time, if this is made an absolute requirement, as it is at present, there is no guarantee that we will get the pool of applicants we want.

On previous occasions, Northern Ireland was seen as a plum job, paving the way to the top of the Met, or to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, but that may not be the case now. It is no secret that Matt Baggott, a man universally popular in every other job he has held, got a hard time here and is retiring sooner than might have been expected.

He didn't get on with the Policing Board, a body which he saw as too politicised. He shared his concerns about the board's conduct in an interview last September: "A lot of the political parties have protested this year about times when we have enforced the law exactly as we should do, but it has been subject to political interpretation. That undermines confidence in policing."

The brightest and best in Britain, or the Republic, may well be put off by Mr Baggott's experiences, in spite of the £250,000 salary which is expected to be on offer, along with a very upmarket free house and private education package.

That is why we need to open up the process to the top tier in the PSNI who, with one exception, haven't the requisite service elsewhere.

On the other hand, it is preferable that the Executive and Policing Board set the criteria and it is good, in principle, to see the 'silo' system, by which ministers have autonomy in their own departments, being broken down.

Although some ministers may complain at their fiefdoms being eroded, the growth of collective responsibility would be a positive development.

Yet Mr Ford made the right decision, which other ministers should now buy into.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk