Unionists may have to rethink whether they will take part in future selection panels for top posts in Northern Ireland’s police service after the appointment of Huge Orde as Chief Constable, it was claimed today.
Ulster Unionist Police Board member Fred Cobain, who resisted the Metropolitan Police officer’s appointment on the grounds that none of the candidates for the Chief Constable’s job was qualified, said party colleagues needed to ensure there was a proper balance in future interview panels.
He told PA News: ‘‘This decision was steamrollered through to the delight of nationalists but without thinking about what was best for the police service.
‘‘There are two big appointments coming up which the Board will have to decide on an Assistant Chief Constable’s post and the Chief Executive.
‘‘What my party needs to do is look at the composition of the interview panels and see if there is proper community balance.
‘‘If we cannot get that put right, then we need to reconsider if we will sit in these panels.’’
Unionists have expressed anger at the decision to appoint the 43-year-old Deputy Assistant Metropolitan Commissioner.
An eight-strong panel from the board last night spent hours in intense debate after interviewing all three short-listed candidates.
Mr Orde fought off intense competition from two senior Police Service of Northern Ireland officers, Alan McQuillan and Chris Albiston, to land the job.
However Denis Bradley, the board’s vice chairman, admitted there was division among board
members over the appointment.
But he stressed the decision was made on a marking system rather than a vote.
‘‘There’s not total happiness around this but that’s the process we agreed to,’’ he said.
The new PSNI chief has been running an inquiry into allegations that security forces colluded with loyalist paramilitaries to murder Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane.
Ironically, he is now in the position of drawing lessons for the police service from a report whose
recommendations he helped shape.
With the Stevens report expected to attack Special Branch’s ‘‘force within a force’’ status, Ulster Unionist MLA Fred Cobain and Democratic Unionist Sammy Wilson resisted his appointment.
Mr Cobain warned the decision ‘‘could be a recipe for disaster.’’
‘‘The independent advisor from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said none of the candidates reached the threshold,’’ the North Belfast MLA said.
‘‘I thought that would have been sufficient for a no-board.
‘‘This is one of the most demanding policing jobs on these islands and maybe people were pressurised into making the decision they did.’’
The appointment was welcomed by the nationalist SDLP and by the chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Irwin Montgomery, who said the board had to choose from ‘‘three very able candidates’’.
‘‘The Federation looks forward to working with him on the serious issues facing the police and the community,’’ he said.
However Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said he did not believe the appointment would ‘‘make much of a difference to his community’’.
‘‘It doesn’t take away from the central issue, which is that the legislative amendments to the Police Act are still not enough to command the support of nationalists and republicans,’’ the North Belfast MLA said.
‘‘You still have an awful lot of power in the Chief Constable’s hands and not enough accountability and I think the change of face is not going to make any difference to that.’’