Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Justice Minister David Ford's solo run tackled by DUP and Sinn Fein

Justice Minister David Ford has been told by Executive colleagues that they will have the final say on his controversial plan to alter the recruitment criteria for the PSNI's next Chief Constable.

Mr Ford has faced criticism from political rivals since announcing his intention to remove the mandatory requirement for Matt Baggott's successor to have served two years at senior rank outside Northern Ireland.

But the Justice Minister will submit his ideas to a meeting of the Policing Board next Thursday as already planned. However, the final decision and timing of any changes has been taken out of his hands and will be made by the Executive. It is reserving the right to reverse his decision or delay it until after the appointment of Matt Baggott's successor.

Yesterday Mr Ford acquiesced in the Executive ruling. "I have always been a team player" he said, but questioned its motivation.

"I will now continue down the road that I have embarked on. For whatever reasons, and I fear they are only political reasons, the DUP and Sinn Fein have determined that I must bring my final decision to the Executive for it to consider. I will do so. But I trust that the Executive will recognise that it is the right decision, and that I was right to make it," he said.

"The Executive must ensure that it does not allow politics to be dragged into the recruitment of a Chief Constable, nor the role of a Justice Minister."

Mr Baggott has said he wants to retire, and must go by September. Under current rules candidates for his job are required to have served two years at Assistant Chief Constable level or above in an outside force. Mr Ford proposes reducing this from an absolute requirement to something which is "desirable".

This would bring the PSNI into line with practice elsewhere in the UK. The Justice Minister proposes making it mandatory that the successful candidate should have completed the Strategic Command Course at Bramshill, or equivalent.

Equivalent courses include the FBI Executive course for future chiefs of police, which has been completed by some senior gardai.

It remains a moot point whether Mr Ford accepts that the Executive has a right to overrule him. A paper he submitted to the Executive is understood to have insisted that "this decision is within his powers as Minister of Justice" and pointed out that he had, so far, only issued it in draft form as part of a consultation process.

The First Ministers have the power to intervene in ministerial decisions if they are "significant and controversial". Mr Ford argued: "This decision does not deal with significant matters, but involves only minor adjustment to the mandatory minimum criteria for an appointment process."

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