Stormont leaders could hasten Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson's exit from office by hiring his successor without delay, the Assembly has heard.
The Ombudsman, who has been under heavy criticism for his handling of historical cases involving alleged police misconduct, has announced he will step down next June.
During a heated Assembly debate on restoring confidence in the police watchdog, Justice Minister David Ford said Mr Hutchinson would be prepared to leave earlier if a successor was in place. With a number of senior officials having departed the office in recent times, Mr Ford said it could not run properly if it was left without an Ombudsman.
"As he made it clear to the (Assembly's) justice committee, the current Ombudsman said he is open to leaving earlier than the date he specified of the 1st of June 2012 if a new appointee is ready to take up office before then. That is a practical and common sense approach which, frankly, leaves the responsibility where it correctly lies - with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister."
Mr Hutchinson has faced calls to quit immediately after the latest in a series of damning reports said he had lost the trust of senior colleagues and that his watchdog organisation was divided and dysfunctional.