Gerry Kelly ‘has not rowed back’ on Sinn Fein leader’s police chief remarks

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald’s remarks over the selection of the new PSNI chief constable have “blown apart the myth of republican support for police and the rule of law in Northern Ireland”, Jim Allister has claimed.

SF president Mary Lou McDonald yesterday indicated she wants someone outside the PSNI to replace Chief Constable George Hamilton when he retires in June.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly pictured outside the Policing Board headquarters in Belfast

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly pictured outside the Policing Board headquarters in Belfast

The party president said she did not have confidence in any of the current senior PSNI command team to succeed Mr Hamilton.

In an interview on BBC’s Stephen Nolan Show this morning, Policing Board member Mr Kelly asked whether he felt there was anyone on the senior management of the PSNI who he felt was suitable for taking over as chief constable.

After being pressed on the matter repeatedly, the North Belfast MLA eventually said: “There are clearly people capable within the PSNI and outside it to apply for this job.”

While some have suggested that Mr Kelly’s remark’s signify a u-turn on his party leader’s stance, TUV leader Mr Allister dismissed that notion.

Mary Lou McDonald

Mary Lou McDonald

He stated: “Gerry Kelly’s comments - contrary did not how they have been interpreted by some this morning - did not row back from what McDonald said. Of course there are people within the PSNI who are able to apply but there is a huge difference between saying someone from within the PSNI can apply and saying there is a possibility of someone within the PSNI being appointed.

“If the public are to have any confidence in this appointment process Sinn Fein should have no say on the selection board for the new chief constable.”

Ms McDonald’s remarks have sparked widespread criticism from political opponents.

DUP MLA Edwin Poots MLA said there can be no preconditions on what police force a candidate comes from.

“That is fully wrong, it is unjust,” he added.

“Mary Lou McDonald needs to withdraw from this position and apologise immediately. It is going to be very difficult to have any confidence in a Sinn Fein member being on the selection panel unless there is significant retraction coming from that party.”

DUP Policing Board Member Mervyn Storey MLA said he was seeking legal advice from the Chief Executive of the Policing Board regarding Ms McDonald’s comments.

“This is a very foolish comment,” he said.

“There are many capable officers in the PSNI and to make such a blanket statement is an outrageous generalisation.

“Policing Board members will be responsible for interviewing and assessing any future chief constable.

“How can any SF member sit on that panel and candidates from the PSNI expect to get a fair hearing?

“Anyone sitting on that panel must be fair and open-minded rather than having a pre-determined outcome.”

Alliance Policing Board member John Blair questioned whether Sinn Fein can remain on the interview panel to select a new chief constable.

“This was a careless and irresponsible thing to say,” said the South Antrim MLA.

“It would be the ideal scenario to have as broad a representation as possible on the selection panel which interviews candidates and decides upon George Hamilton’s replacement.

“However, this intervention from Mary Lou McDonald now begs the question as to whether any Sinn Fein representative can sit on that panel.”

The Ulster Unionist Party’s Policing Board representative, Alan Chambers, has responded by asking if Sinn Fein is preparing to withdraw support for policing.

“Mary Lou McDonald needs to be very careful in what she says,” he said.

“There will be genuine concerns that this is Sinn Fein’s way of signalling that it is preparing to withdraw support for policing in Northern Ireland.

“You would almost think they don’t want to be policed by anyone.”

In a statement, Policing Board Chair Anne Connolly said the selection and assessment processes will be based on “the key principles of merit, fairness and openness”.

She added: “This is a significant leadership position and the Board will want to attract a wide range of candidates.”