Sinn Fein leader and PSNI chief set for ‘frank’ discussion in succession row

The leader of Sinn Fein and Northern Ireland’s police chief are to meet today for a “frank” conversation.

Mary Lou McDonald and George Hamilton, who are in Washington DC this week, will discuss their dispute over the Chief Constable’s potential successor.

SF leader Mary Lou McDonald and PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton

SF leader Mary Lou McDonald and PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton

It comes after Mrs McDonald said she would not have confidence in any current member of the PSNI senior command team replacing Mr Hamilton when he retires in the summer.

Speaking ahead of their meeting, Mrs McDonald said: “We are going to meet to discuss primarily issues around dealing with legacy, the PSNI disclosing and co-operating with the police and the ombudsman and other bodies, and I think we will have a frank conversation.

“My interactions with George Hamilton have always been open and direct and I imagine that tomorrow (Thursday) will be no different.”

Mrs McDonald and Mr Hamilton both attended the Ireland Funds dinner in Washington on Wednesday evening.

The Sinn Fein president’s remarks about the next chief constable triggered a furore last month.

Mr Hamilton responded in robust terms, accusing her of poor leadership and suggesting she had “contaminated” and “interfered” with the selection process.

Mrs McDonald’s assertion, from which she has not resiled, came after she met bereaved families caught up in a controversy involving the PSNI’s failure to disclose documents about historical killings to Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman.

The PSNI’s oversight body - the Northern Ireland Policing Board - is responsible for appointing the chief constable.

Ordinarily, a Sinn Fein appointee would be on a board panel - made up of party political and independent board members - which makes the decision.

That practice was thrown into doubt following Mrs McDonald’s remarks, for a time raising the prospect of a panel without Sinn Fein representation, or without any political appointees at all.

But, after taking legal advice, the Policing Board ultimately decided to press ahead with a panel including political representatives, including Sinn Fein.