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No reason hunt for new PSNI chief should lapse into a crisis


PSNI Chief Con. Matt Baggott

PSNI Chief Con. Matt Baggott

PSNI Chief Con. Matt Baggott

The row between David Ford and the Executive sounds like angels dancing on the head of a pin, but has deep implications for the way the Executive is run and could imperil the appointment of the next Chief Constable.

Mr Ford proposed making it "desirable" that the new Chief Constable has served two years in a senior post outside Northern Ireland instead of "compulsory", as at present. He pointed out that the Policing Board, which actually makes the appointment, could vary this.

The DUP and Sinn Fein feel he was "on a solo run" and insist that the final decision should be taken by the whole Executive.

That raises profound issues about the powers of ministers to take decisions in their own departments. It sets a precedent which could eventually change decision-making in areas like planning or education.

Mr Ford hopes his proposals will eventually be backed by his Executive colleagues. The problem is that if ministers can't agree, and nobody blinks, this could all end up in court.

That would be a disaster which could well leave us without a Chief Constable and Deputy Chief Constable when Matt Baggott leaves in September. That is the hard deadline, but ideally we should have both posts replaced by June and the start of the marching season.

This decision needs to be taken in a timely fashion so that the post can be advertised, the candidate interviewed and the appointment made.

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Mr Ford has been consulting on this issue since last year, as Judith Gillespie, the departing Deputy Chief Constable, has pointed out. There is no reason why this process should turn into a crisis.

Ideally, Mr Ford's proposals will now be rubber-stamped by his Executive colleagues.