A former PSNI deputy chief constable has warned that there could be a "crisis" if the policing board doesn't address the number of people who are temporarily "acting up" in senior PSNI roles.
Speaking out after Chief Constable George Hamilton announced that he will retire at the end of June, Alan McQuillan said that several top roles in the PSNI are currently being filled by staff "acting up" - and warned that "a very small number of people" may want to take over the top role.
Currently, Stephen Martin is acting up as temporary deputy chief constable, while Barbara Gray, Tim Mairs and George Clarke are fulfilling the roles of temporary assistant chief constables.
Mark McNaughten is the temporary director of finance and support services and human resources for the PSNI.
"Of the eight top roles in the PSNI, five people are currently acting up on a temporary basis," Mr McQuillan said.
"The fact that the policing board didn't exist for two years meant that they could not make appointments.
"During that, with the normal turnover, many people left and the organisation has now been left in a very difficult situation. If they don't sort it out very quickly it will be a crisis.
"The other issue is, who is going to come in to take the chief constable's job?
"The policing board may be back in place, but there's no government, there's the impact of Brexit, possibly a resurgent terrorist campaign - and the question is, who in England is going to be prepared to come over here and take this on with such a fragmented team and no certainty that the policing board will stay up depending on what happens politically? That's not the fault of the policing board.
"They will see an organisation going through a huge change, that they won't have a settled team to work with, and that we have no government.
"And if Brexit is going to be a problem for anywhere in the UK, it's going to be here. There may be a very small number of people who want to take it up."
A source told the Belfast Telegraph that potential contenders for the job who are serving elsewhere, such as the former deputy chief constable Drew Harris or former ACC Will Kerr, may not be tempted as they had recently committed to high-profile roles with the Garda and Police Scotland.
In addition, Mr Kerr previously settled an alleged discrimination case against the policing board on the grounds of religious belief and political opinion, after he failed in his bid to become deputy chief constable in 2014.
"Will Kerr has just been sworn in, he might go for Northern Ireland if he was asked, he's probably the most obvious contender in the rest of the UK," the source said. "Drew is a very experienced and competent guy, but he's made a commitment to the Garda and I doubt he would want to leave it after such a short time. They may have to go headhunting."
However, an internal candidate could fill the vacancy, as the criteria of serving in a senior role in another police force for a minimum of two years was changed to 'desirable' rather than 'essential' in 2014.
The internal leading local candidate would clearly be Stephen Martin," the source added. But they suggested that other current senior PSNI staff such as assistant chief constables Mark Hamilton and Alan Todd could be potential contenders.
A policing board spokesperson said that it would discuss the appointment process on February 6.
The spokesperson said: "It will be for the policing board to decide the criteria that will apply to applicants for the next chief constable position. Senior officer appointments are a priority for the policing board in the time ahead in order to bring permanency to a number of positions within the PSNI service executive team."