QUESTIONS have been raised about the independence of so-called “independent” members of the bodies that oversee the PSNI after the appointment of a serving Sinn Fein councillor as a non-political representative.
Last week the membership of the new Policing and Community and Safety Partnerships (PCSPs) – which have just replaced District Policing Partnerships – was announced.
The bodies, which are supposed to hold the PSNI to account in each of the 26 council areas, are made up of both political members – appointed by the local council – and independent members who apply to the Policing Board which selects and appoints them.
But one of the 232 “independent” members of the PCSPs announced last week is Banbridge Sinn Fein councillor Paul Gribben.
Lagan Valley DUP MLA Brenda Hale said that the Policing Board’s decision to appoint the councillor as an independent member was “astounding”.
Ms Hale said: “Serious questions need to be asked as to how this situation was been allowed to happen.
“How can an applicant, who serves as a local political elected representative, also be considered for one of the ‘independent’ positions?
“It is deeply disappointing that those community leaders and community activists who are real independents were being displaced by those who were seeking to gain extra political positions.”
Local Dromore DUP councillor and Banbridge PCSP member Paul Rankin said: “If a sitting councillor can apply as an independent and be accepted, then what is there to prevent all of the independent positions being filled by elected representatives?
“When is an independent truly an independent?”
Although he is the most obviously political “independent” member of a PCSP, Mr Gribben is not the only independent with strong links to a political party.
The Policing Board said that about 40 per cent of “independent” members had declared some political involvement.
And in a statement the board defended allowing political representatives to be appointed as non-political members.
It said: “The Policing Board recently appointed 232 independent members to Policing and Community Safety Partnerships across Northern Ireland following the recent recruitment exercise.
“The board can confirm that a number of sitting councillors applied for positions as independent members of PCSPs.
“The Justice Act does not currently prevent sitting councillors from applying as an independent member of a PCSP and one councillor has been appointed to Banbridge PCSP.”
District Policing Partnerships (DPPs) were introduced as part of the Patten reforms of policing in an attempt to connect police to their communities and allow ordinary members of the public to hold local police commanders to account.
But, despite costing millions in fees for members — who were each paid more than £2,000 a year — and administrative costs, most DPP meetings were poorly attended.
Often there were fewer members of the public present than politicians and police.
The PCSPs replace both DPPs and Community Safety Partnerships.
However, unlike the existing bodies there will be attendance-related payments to members of the new bodies who will be paid £60 per meeting to a maximum of 20 meetings per year.