Belfast Telegraph

PSNI's new Chief Constable George Hamilton to take up post at Northern Ireland marching season's peak

By Chris Kilpatrick

The next boss of the PSNI is set for a very testing introduction – taking over as Chief Constable at the height of the marching season.

Outgoing head Matt Baggott's contract expires in September but he is expected to step aside for George Hamilton – appointed last Thursday – much sooner.

According to Policing Board sources, Mr Baggott will officially end his five-year tenure at the end of July, but will, in effect, vacate the post from the beginning of next month due to outstanding leave he has accumulated.

That would see Mr Hamilton take the reins just days before the Twelfth, providing a huge and very public test of the new Chief Constable.

"Talks have been ongoing around Matt's departure and George taking over," a member of the Policing Board said last night.

"With George already in place there is no reason why the change should not be made sooner rather than later, and that is what is expected to happen.

"The talk is that George will be in charge early in July."

Last year the marching season was marred by some of the worst street disorder seen in Northern Ireland in recent years.

On one night alone police battled to contain 84 riots and protests across Northern Ireland.

Last week Mr Baggott told the Belfast Telegraph thousands of extra police officers will be needed to flood the streets during contentious parades if a High Court ruling on loyalist flag protests is not overturned.

April's ruling by Mr Justice Treacy that police wrongly facilitated illegal and sometimes violent loyalist flag protest marches is to be appealed by the PSNI.

In recent days Mr Hamilton addressed the issue of public disorder, telling a Press conference to mark his appointment that it was his force's responsibility to uphold the law.

"The PSNI, unfortunately, is very experienced with such things," he said.

"The human rights framework will be right at the centre of my leadership of this organisation.

"As we go into another marching season that will be the focus.

"In some ways there's nothing particularly new in that. I have the greatest respect and admiration for my colleagues at district level who year in, year out go about standing in between opposing factions, trying to balance rights and trying to minimise harm caused to communities."

Mr Hamilton also said issues around flags and parading could not be resolved by police alone.

"In relation to political solutions to deal with wider societal issues around the past, flags and protests and so on, of course I, like anyone else who has a stake and who cares passionately about the well-being of Northern Ireland, would like to see a resolution to that," he said.

"I think we need to allow the politicians to get on with that."

A Policing Board spokeswoman told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday talks on the handover are ongoing.

"The date of appointment is being finalised," she said.

Story so far

George Hamilton was appointed as Matt Baggott's successor as PSNI Chief Constable last week. Mr Baggott is due to retire in September but it is understood he could go within weeks, as the marching season gets in full swing. More than 800 police officers were injured last year as a result of disorder around flag and parades protests.

Belfast Telegraph

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