Outgoing Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie has insisted she is leaving the Police Service of Northern Ireland on her terms and not as a consequence of a disputed job criteria preventing her from applying for the organisation’s top post.
Mrs Gillespie, the service’s highest ranking female officer, leaves at the end of the month after 32 years in policing.
The announcement of her retirement came shortly before a political row erupted over how the PSNI’s next chief constable is hired when incumbent Matt Baggott himself retires in the autumn.
Stormont Justice Minister David Ford’s proposal that a mandatory requirement for the next chief to have served two years outside Northern Ireland be scrapped was met with fierce opposition from his political rivals and he was ultimately overruled by colleagues in the power-sharing executive.
Mrs Gillespie, like many other senior ranking officers in the PSNI, would be unable to apply for the top job while the criteria remains.
But on her last major public engagement in post, at the UK’s Senior Women in Policing Conference in Belfast, the deputy chief constable said she decided to go in the knowledge that a consultation on potentially changing the rule was on-going.
“I said at the time that I knew there was a consultation process under way,” she said.
“And I decided to retire on my terms and in my time.”
Mrs Gillespie said she was considering a number of offers for a new career but hinted at which sector she may end up in.
“I am not going to be idle,” she said.
“I’ve lots of plans and lots of irons in the fire and lots of really interesting offers but I am going to be judicious about what I say yes to.”
She added: “Policing is always very close to my heart and women in policing especially and the vulnerable victims and those who are most vulnerable in our society, that will always be very, very close to my heart so I don’t think I will be too far away from that sector.”
The senior officer said it was apt that one of her last roles was to host the conference on women in policing.
“It’s a lovely way to finish my career as deputy and as the most senior woman in the PSNI,” she said.
“I think you would expect I had planned my retirement very carefully and thoughtfully and there was no way I was retiring before this conference, we have worked very hard to bring the conference here, and it just seemed a very fitting way to finish.”
Mrs Gillespie said she was proud of the role she had played in delivering last year’s World Police and Fire Games in Northern Ireland, the G8 Summit in Co Fermanagh, the UK City of Culture events in Londonderry and the all Ireland fleadh, also in Londonderry.
“It would be very hard to top those milestones in my career and I think it’s always good to quit while you are on a high and that’s my reasoning now,” she said.
But the married mother-of-two said her ability to hold a top rank while also maintaining a healthy family life was possibly her greatest achievement.
“I hope the legacy I leave is that women will see that they can achieve high rank within the police service, within the PSNI, and they can still also have a life,” she said.
“And that’s probably my greatest achievement - to have a family life, be a relatively normal person and to enjoy a fantastic career within the PSNI and be a role model to other women, that’s the biggest achievement of all.”