Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: 'What does it say about Sinn Fein in the north that it needs a pushy southerner to be its public face?'

Mary Lou McDonald's staggeringly misjudged comments on the PSNI may yet end up in court, says Alban Maginness

Mary Lou McDonald
Mary Lou McDonald
Gerry Kelly
Chief Constable George Hamilton

The outrageously offensive and ill-informed comments by the Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald about the senior leadership of the PSNI are an indication of her failure to grasp the subtler aspects of northern policing and politics in general.

She stated publicly that she wouldn't have confidence in any current senior officer succeeding Chief Constable George Hamilton.

Her aggressive blunderbuss approach to politics generally has failed to impress or appeal to the electorate south of the border. Her leadership will soon be tested in the Republic, as the local government and European Parliament elections take place on May 24.

In the north, nationalist voters are simply bemused by the sight of McDonald haranguing the television cameras, with an uncertain and sheepish-looking Michelle O'Neill standing mutely beside her. North of the border, the common reaction to her angry and pushy style is one of incredulity that Sinn Fein here needs a Dubliner to speak for them.

Gallantly, Gerry Kelly MLA and Policing Board member, ostensibly came to her rescue, ludicrously defending her by admitting that she didn't know any of the senior officers in the PSNI's top team bar two.

He carefully asserted that his fellow Sinn Fein members on the Policing Board would carry out any appointments process on the basis of objectivity and merit.

Of course, given the hole that Mary Lou had buried the party in with her injudicious comments, Kelly had to quickly assert the impartiality of the party's members on the board for fear of them being excluded from its appointment panel for the new Chief Constable.

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Obviously, unlike Kelly, Mary Lou was not acquainted with northern employment law, which prevents discrimination against anyone in job appointments.

Following her prejudicial comments, the Equality Commission intervened by way of a blunt, written reminder to the Policing Board that under equality legislation it had a duty to recruit in a non-discriminatory way.

This intervention provided an ideal opportunity for Mary Lou to retract her damaging comments, but she failed to do so and exacerbated matters by saying: "There's nothing to apologise for. There's no retraction to be made."

This failure to retract or even amend her comments by way of explanation could still backfire on Sinn Fein if the legal advice the board receives indicates that current Sinn Fein members are to be deemed ineligible to participate in the appointment process by virtue of their leader's prejudicial remarks about the suitability of the current top leadership of the force.

And, if that does not happen, it is still open to any aggrieved senior PSNI officer who is a candidate for the position of Chief Constable to seek an injunction in the High Court preventing any Sinn Fein Policing Board member participating in the appointments process on the grounds that, by reason of their leader's initial remarks and her later reiteration of the same remarks, that they are prejudiced and incapable of participating in the appointments process at any level.

This would be a huge blow to Sinn Fein's much-vaunted position as a champion of equality.

Lost in the sorry political melee surrounding Mary Lou's comments on the leadership of the PSNI was the natural concern that the public had with the PSNI, given its admitted failure to disclose significant information about the massacre of five Catholics in Sean Graham's bookmakers shop on the Ormeau Road in Belfast in 1992.

Although an apology and a plausible explanation has been given by the PSNI - that this failure was due to human error and that there was no deliberate attempt to prevent disclosure of records relating to this sectarian atrocity by the UFF - people still remain deeply disappointed.

However, this was not a job the PSNI ever wanted to be involved in at all.

The present Chief Constable has made it plain that it is too costly and stretches scarce police resources.

In December 2014 all the parties agreed in what was called the Stormont House Agreement that a series of bespoke institutions would systematically address the various aspects of legacy, thus freeing the police completely from having to deal with this issue.

The agreement, which comprehensively addresses legacy in all its elements, has, without explanation, not been implemented by the British Government.

As usual the DUP - short-sighted and foolish as ever - has failed to realise the universal value in implementing the Stormont House Agreement and depoliticising the issue of legacy once and for all, thereby happily releasing the PSNI from this onerous task.

The real problem now is that legacy and nationalist community confidence in the PSNI have, for political reasons, been wrongly and deliberately conflated by Sinn Fein. But for what political purpose?

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