Editor's Viewpoint: SF's really put foot in it over top police post
The statement from Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald saying she could not identify any senior officer in the PSNI who she thought was capable of succeeding George Hamilton was an astonishing one.
There is a valid argument it could cause chaos in the selection procedure, which will involve at least one member of her party, as unsuccessful applicants may seek legal redress, arguing that her comments undermined their application.
But it was also an astonishing intervention given that Sinn Fein signed up to justice and policing in Northern Ireland in 2007 and, by inference, was committed to support the force, even if it retained the right to criticise on occasion.
Her comments will only give succour to dissident republicans for whom police are targets. The force has tried to recruit more Catholics but dissidents have threatened young people thinking of joining. They have also targeted Catholics in the force and carried out a campaign of intimidation against their families.
It was obvious the party was embarrassed at being caught up in another blunder by its less than sure-footed leader - reminiscent of her comments last July when she said there should not be a border poll while the Brexit chaos continued only to row back within 24 hours to say she wanted a referendum on a united Ireland as soon as possible.
While the party's policing spokesman Gerry Kelly stopped short of criticising her comments, he made the equally astonishing confession that his leader did not really know any of the PSNI's top team from which potential candidates will emerge. He also said that he was sure there were those in that team qualified to apply for the job, which becomes vacant in June.
By conflating the PSNI's failure to provide significant information on a loyalist massacre in Belfast until a report from the Police Ombudsman was almost due to be made public with the search for a new Chief Constable, Sinn Fein has scored an own-goal and undermined its own credibility. It has drawn attention away from a subject that concerned many to a needless and harmful row which rightly has led to the party being the subject of widespread criticism.
And as a former senior policeman pointed out, this is a row that may make some candidates wonder on the value of applying for the job. Any Chief Constable of the PSNI deserves to get cross-community backing given the challenges they and society face.