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Chief Constable faces big call that could ultimately decide Stormont's future

By Brian Rowan

Published 15/08/2015

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton

In his office at PSNI headquarters George Hamilton will now know what it was like at times to stand in the policing shoes of previous chief constables.

There is a big call to be made - his call. Who killed Kevin McGuigan and with what authority and sanction?

The outcome of his deliberations could play into high politics.

It is an assessment that could decide the future of Stormont.

At different times former Chief Constables Sir Hugh Annesley, Sir Ronnie Flanagan and Sir Hugh Orde will have known the pressure of such moments; Annesley during the period of the first ceasefire when a series of killings carried out under the banner of Direct Action Against Drugs (DAAD) was eventually linked by the police to the IRA; Flanagan in the weeks leading to the Good Friday Agreement when he named the IRA as being involved in a number of shootings and that assessment played into politics with Sinn Fein suspended for a time from the negotiations.

And, then, at a time when attempts were being made to make a deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein, Orde named the IRA as the organisation behind the multi-million pound Northern Bank robbery.

In all of those situations, the position and line of the republican leadership was denial.

The pattern continues into recent days and into the frame of the Kevin McGuigan shooting with Sinn Fein dismissing any suggestion of IRA involvement. This is why the police assessment is so important.

In the background there is plenty of talk about IRA involvement - suggestion, speculation, hint and possibility.

But at police headquarters, Hamilton needs information and evidence and intelligence he can stand over.

For years it has been known that the decommissioning processes did not mean that every weapon had been put beyond use.

If the IRA was in any way involved in this shooting, the weapons are unlikely to provide clues.

The guns would be "clean" - with no way of being traced back.

So, this security assessment will depend more on intelligence than evidence, and could come down to policing gut instinct.

After a morning radio interview yesterday, I was sent a tweet: "Public opinion assessment already made - murdered by PIRA".

The Chief Constable needs something more than that public opinion assessment; needs something much more solid. He will know that when he speaks to give a professional policing opinion that all political ears will be listening.

That is the importance of getting this right, and it is why he is unlikely to rush into any public commentary.

Following in that policing line of Annesley, Flanagan and Orde, George Hamilton now has his big call to make.

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