Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

Matt Baggott replacement: First Ministers slam Ford over change of rules for top PSNI job

Justice Minister David Ford changed a key application requirement
Justice Minister David Ford changed a key application requirement

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have united to call Justice Minister David Ford to account over his change to a key application requirement for a new PSNI Chief Constable to replace Matt Baggott.

Previously only individuals with a minimum of two years' service in a police force outside Northern Ireland at a rank of Assistant Chief Constable or higher could be considered.

Yesterday, Mr Ford said that criteria would be considered desirable as opposed to mandatory when seeking to recruit a successor for Mr Baggott.

This would increase the chances of a home-grown officer taking the post.

Mr Baggott (55) announced last Wednesday he was retiring from the £190,000-per-year post this September, after more than four years as Northern Ireland's most senior officer.

The change to the application process brings Northern Ireland in line with police forces in England and Wales.

Before the change, it was widely believed only one current serving PSNI senior figure would have been eligible to go for the post.

However, Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness have objected to the change saying the Justice Committee, the Executive and the Policing Board should have all been consulted and he is acting outside his powers in a broadside that looks set to blow up into a major political row.

Sinn Fein policing spokesman Gerry Kelly said: "David Ford's unilateral decision to change the recruitment criteria for the position of Chief Constable is unwelcome and ill-timed.

"He has taken this decision without seeking the agreement of the Executive or indeed the Policing Board whose responsibility it is to recruit to this position.

"The timing of this announcement comes only days after the current Chief Constable Matt Baggott said he would be stepping down and weeks after the Deputy Chief Constable, Judith Gillespie, cited the two-year rule as one of the reasons why she was stepping down. It has taken the Policing Board by surprise and has angered many.

"David Ford has attempted a solo run and should now explain himself to the Policing Board and to his Executive colleagues."

This has resulted in the minister being called in to the Executive on Thursday.

Mr Ford earlier justified his decision. He said: "I have decided to remove the mandatory requirement that the Chief Constable must have served as (at least) an Assistant Chief Constable for two years elsewhere. I considered it important to ensure the criteria allows for as wide a pool of candidates as possible."

The Policing Board is to discuss the appointments next month.

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