Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Ministers block move over PSNI Chief Constable job criteria

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott is due to step down later this year
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott is due to step down later this year

Justice Minister David Ford's plan to remove a rule that means PSNI officers must have served in a senior role in an outside force to be eligible to become chief constable has been kicked into touch, it is understood.

The Alliance leader was seeking to change the criteria for the recruitment for the top police job.

Currently applicants must have served in an outside force at Assistant Chief Constable level or higher for at least two years to be eligible for the top job.

Mr Ford wants to see this changed to be a desirable criteria instead of an essential one.

The debate was thrown into the spotlight with the announcement that Chief Constable Matt Baggott will quit in September.

Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie has also announced her intention to go, leaving the top two positions in the force vacant.

However, it is understood that Mr Ford's plan has now been blocked by First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Sources told the Belfast Telegraph that Mr Ford was told at a meeting with the pair yesterday that his plan won't be supported.

He can raise it at Thursday's Executive meeting but without the support of the DUP and Sinn Fein it is unlikely to be approved.

Earlier this month the Policing Board rejected Mr Ford's proposal and batted it back to Stormont.

Then, DUP board member Jonathan Craig applauded the decision, adding: "I am pleased that the Policing Board has rejected the Minister of Justice's attempt to meddle in such a sensitive public recruitment process."

But Policing Board chief executive Sam Pollock indicated that not amending the recruitment criteria may leave the PSNI open to legal challenge.

In a document, Criteria For Appointing The Chief Constable of the PSNI, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Pollock pointed out that the requirement to have served two years in an outside force had been ended everywhere else in the UK and had never applied to An Garda Siochana.

This means, he wrote, that "those staff in Northern Ireland who would meet the general criteria excepting this one would be very uniquely disadvantaged".

He gave short shrift to arguments that it would be wrong to change the criteria "because the current process of appointment had begun".

"My advice is clear on that matter – no process has begun... the appointment process is only being considered at this meeting."

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott will resign in March and must go by September. Under current rules his replacement must have served two years at senior level in another force. Justice Minister David Ford proposed making this requirement desirable rather than mandatory. A political row ensued, with other parties claiming Mr Ford had no right to make such a unilateral decision.

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