Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein leader's comments could lead to departures from PSNI claims former top cop

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and party colleagues outside Leinster House in Dublin yesterday
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and party colleagues outside Leinster House in Dublin yesterday
Alan McQuillan
Gerry Kelly
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

A former Assistant Chief Constable has warned that Mary Lou McDonald's controversial comments on senior PSNI officers could lead to a brain drain, with local policing talent seeking jobs in Britain.

Alan McQuillan branded the Sinn Fein president's remarks "dangerous" and "very sad given the positive and constructive role her party has played on the Policing Board in the past decade".

Ms McDonald yesterday refused to apologise for saying she wouldn't have confidence in any current senior PSNI officer succeeding George Hamilton as Chief Constable.

Sinn Fein Policing Board member Gerry Kelly insisted any party member on the selection panel for the job would be objective and fair.

But the Equality Commission expressed concern at Ms McDonald's remarks and said it had written to the Policing Board "to remind it of its responsibilities under equality legislation to recruit in a non-discriminatory way".

Mr McQuillan last night told the Belfast Telegraph: "I understand that Mary Lou McDonald must be under political pressure from (loyalist) murder victim relatives over the PSNI not disclosing information to the Police Ombudsman.

"But her comments undermine Sinn Fein's credibility on the Policing Board and cause the board significant problems.

"Very capable PSNI officers may well now think they won't get a fair shot at senior positions and walk off to jobs in England.

"There currently isn't a huge pool of police talent in Britain so these officers, with all their experience and skills, would be seen as good catches for other forces."

Ms McDonald yesterday remained adamant.

"There's nothing to apologise for, there's no retraction to be made," she said. She dismissed criticism of her comments as "political huffing and puffing".

The Sinn Fein leader said she would have "no role" in appointing the next Chief Constable and her party's representatives on the selection panel would act in accordance with rules and regulations.

The Police Federation had demanded an apology.

Mr Kelly defended his party chief. He said she didn't know people in the PSNI's top team bar "the temporary Deputy Chief Constable and the other Assistant Chief Constable", who she had been introduced to on Monday.

He said she had made a "straightforward" comment in light of recent criticism of the PSNI for failing to disclose information to the Ombudsman.

The MLA insisted any party member who sat on the selection panel for the Chief Constable or other jobs would "act on the basis of objectivity and merit whether those candidates are from within the PSNI or outside".

But Equality Commission chief Michael Wardlow said: "The Policing Board will need to ensure that the principles of equality law are applied fully and rigorously in the forthcoming competition for a new Chief Constable and that all involved are aware of the critical importance of this."

The DUP said Ms McDonald's refusal to retract her comments, accompanied by Mr Kelly's clarification raised questions about who actually led Sinn Fein.

DUP Policing Board member Mervyn Storey accused Ms McDonald of "foolish and regrettable" behaviour. "As Sinn Fein's leader, the public expect her to set the policy for that party. She made a statement about who she thinks the next Chief Constable could not be," he said.

"That casts a shadow over whether any Sinn Fein Policing Board member can sit on the assessment panel for the next Chief Constable."

Mr Storey said he had asked the Policing Board chief executive to seek legal advice about the impact of Ms McDonald's statement on the make-up of the assessment panel. "Either the Sinn Fein leader dropped the ball and Gerry Kelly has been sent out to correct the position, or else there is a split in Sinn Fein about who the next Chief Constable should be," the MLA said.

"Gerry Kelly's position and Mary Lou McDonald's position do not align. Who speaks for Sinn Fein? The party leader or Gerry Kelly?"

Ulster Unionist Policing Board member Alan Chambers said Mr Kelly's comments had not "repaired the damage" caused by Ms McDonald. "Sinn Fein members on the Policing Board have to put some distance between themselves and their party leader's comments, or they themselves will be wide open to the possibility of legal action and employment tribunals from unsuccessful candidates," he said.

TUV leader Jim Allister claimed that Ms McDonald's comments had "blown apart the myth of republican support for police and the rule of law in Northern Ireland".

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