Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein police stance questioned

Sinn Fein has been accused of failing to support a senior police appointment because of the arrest of Gerry Adams.

Drew Harris was named deputy chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) today.

Sinn Fein withdrew from the selection panel, believing the process was compromised, but their partners in government the Democratic Unionists claimed republicans acted because the former assistant chief constable investigated allegations against their party leader.

The party president was questioned for four days earlier this year by detectives about the 1972 murder of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville and other alleged links with the IRA. He was not charged.

DUP representative Jonathan Craig said: "Their only beef was that this man as a police officer carried out his duty and investigated allegations against their leader.

"They cannot pick and choose, you either support the rule of law and order or you don't."

This is the latest in a series of disputes between Northern Ireland's two largest political parties at a time of fragility in the devolved powersharing administration. Sinn Fein support for the police was central to the re-establishment of devolved institutions in 2007.

Since then the party has participated fully in a range of scrutiny mechanisms at local and regional levels. Full powers over policing and justice have been devolved from London to Belfast.

The Policing Board which includes elected members appoints senior members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and holds the force to account. On Tuesday it named Mr Harris to become the second most senior officer in the force.

He was appointed despite Sinn Fein withdrawing from the selection panel.

Sinn Fein said it withdrew not out of concern about the candidates but about the recruitment process. Board member Caitriona Ruane called for a fresh recruitment competition.

She said: "It is the integrity of the process which is most important in my view.

"I want to make it clear that none of my concerns reflect in any way on either of the two senior officers involved. They are clearly not at fault here."

Only two candidates applied after the post became vacant when Judith Gillespie stepped down in March, assistant chief constable Will Kerr and Mr Harris.

A Board statement has said the process was not compromised.

As assistant chief constable Mr Harris was responsible for crime operations, a portfolio which included organised crime, major investigations and intelligence.

The PSNI has said he is recognised as a UK expert in dealing with high risk covert policing operations. He is also recognised as expert in dealing with critical incidents.

Mr Harris was appointed in February 2013 as a high level expert to a European Parliament Committee reporting on organised crime and corruption.

According to the PSNI, h e has held the Association of Chief Police Officers hate crime portfolio for eight years, leading efforts to improve the criminal justice response to victims, detection rates and data collection.

The senior officer has also spearheaded PSNI initiatives for the management of sex offenders and the introduction of Public Protection Units.

Policing Board chair and chair of the appointment panel Anne Connolly said: "I am delighted to confirm that ACC Harris is the new deputy chief constable of the PSNI.

"He brings immense experience and knowledge of policing to the job and will have a key role in supporting the chief constable and colleagues in leading the PSNI forward."

Stormont justice minister David Ford said: "Drew brings a wealth of experience to the role with over 30 years of service as well as an understanding of policing in Northern Ireland and the challenges facing the PSNI.

"This is a significant time for the PSNI with a new leadership team in place and the two top posts filled within a matter of months. I look forward to working with the chief constable, deputy chief constable and senior team to continue to build a safer Northern Ireland with a police service that has the confidence of the entire community."

Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, welcomed the appointment.

He said: "Drew Harris is a fine officer who possesses vast experience across a range of policing roles. He has come through the ranks and is only too familiar with the challenges faced by rank-and-file officers on a daily basis.

"I have no doubt Mr Harris will make an invaluable contribution to both operational matters and the wider policing debate."

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