McDonald under fire for claiming nobody in PSNI could step up to be new chief constable
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald is coming under heavy criticism for her controversial remarks suggesting there is nobody in the PSNI worthy of being appointed chief constable.
The comments were branded as "wholly irresponsible" and "very dangerous" by Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O'Brien, who accused her of "undermining" the PSNI and said the remarks should be retracted.
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said her remarks shouldn't have been made and the process to replace the current chief constable, George Hamilton, should be allowed take its course "uninfluenced by any politicians".
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents rank and file officers, said Ms McDonald's comments were "wholly inappropriate and offensive".
Mr Hamilton is due to retire in June. Ms McDonald refused to apologise for the remarks or to retract them. She cited a meeting with the Police Ombudsman in which she heard details of information allegedly withheld by the PSNI in relation to the Graham's bookmakers attack. The gun assault carried out by the UFF in 1992 left five people dead. The ombudsman has opened new inquiry lines after finding out about more material linked to the attack.
"I cannot describe to you the level of distress of these families because they were expecting a report from the ombudsman and he discovered by accident that critical information was withheld from him," she said.
"Any comments that I have made are reflective of exasperation and real upset from real people. Any comments I will ever make will be in the interests of delivering credible policing services that people can support."
Ms McDonald did express confidence in Garda Commissioner Drew Harris who was a deputy chief constable in the PSNI before moving south last year. Asked whether her condemnation of the PSNI was reasonable given that Sinn Féin representatives will have a role in selecting the next police boss, she said her position stood.
She said: "I was asked could I identify somebody from the senior team who I thought ought to be [chief constable] and the truth is I can't."
Ms McDonald said members of the Policing Board act in accordance with its rules and regulations when it make PSNI appointments. "I would expect and insist that any Sinn Féin appointee behaves in that manner," she added.
One Sinn Féin Policing Board member, Gerry Kelly, said any party members on selection panels "will act on the basis of objectivity and merit, whether those candidates are from within the PSNI or outside". Ulster Unionist Party MLA Alan Chambers said Mr Kelly's comments hadn't "repaired the damage" caused by Ms McDonald.