The Executive has shied away from a showdown with the justice minister in the controversy over how the next PSNI Chief Constable will be appointed.
A final decision on the appointment process is now expected within days after consideration of legal issues.
By invoking an ‘urgent procedure’, a meeting between Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness and Justice Minister David Ford (right) to resolve the matter could be held early next week.
The alternative is to hold an emergency meeting of the Executive — or risk leaving Northern Ireland without a new Chief Constable.
The Policing Board plans to approve the criteria at its meeting on March 6, and then advertise the post.
The timing is particularly sensitive because Judith Gillespie, the Deputy Chief Constable, intends to resign in March — meaning there will be nobody to fill in once Mr Baggott leaves.
Last month Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness dramatically called Mr Ford to account after he announced his intention to change the job criteria. The Alliance leader wanted to re
duce the requirement for a new Chief Constable to have served two years outside Northern Ireland from ‘mandatory’ to ‘desirable’. Mr Ford was accused of doing a “solo run” by Sinn Fein.
Yesterday afternoon, after hearing Mr Ford's explanation, the Executive decided to consider the results of a consultation conducted by Mr Ford, which broadly supported his decision.
“It only took about 15 minutes’ discussion. Peter Robinson, who chaired the meeting, agreed with David Ford that the decision be taken quickly,” a source at the meeting said.
In a paper to the Executive, Mr Ford said his decision was made after advice that the two-year rule had been dropped everywhere else in the UK because it discriminated against women and people in a caring role.
In a paper to the Policing Board last month, Sam Pollock, its chief executive, advised that failing to make the change Mr Ford suggested would be “indefensible”.
It is expected that, as well as studying the consultation, Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness will take legal advice on constitutional and equality implications.
The Policing Board strongly opposed Mr Ford’s proposal — but has offered no legal argument backing its position. However, Anne Connolly, the chair, did say the equality implications had been considered last June.
Story so far
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott will leave his post by September. Under current rules his replacement must have served two years at senior level in another force. Justice Minister David Ford proposed reducing this requirement to ‘desirable’, rather than mandatory. Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said he was not entitled to make the change.