Up to 60 people shortlisted for North's police board

Up to 60 people have been shortlisted for independent positions on the North’s reformed Policing Board, it emerged today.

Up to 60 people have been shortlisted for independent positions on the North’s reformed Policing Board, it emerged today.

The authority's vice-chairman Denis Bradley has urged the political parties to strengthen female representation on the new panel, which will begin scrutinising PSNI chief Hugh Orde's performance in April.

Mr Bradley, 60, who is standing down after defying death threats and an assault to complete four years' service, insisted his post and the chairmanship should remain with independent members.

He said: "Politicians should be gracious and wise enough to stay away from them for at least the next four or five years. It's too early in the process.''

The ex-priest from Derry, who once brokered secret peace talks between the Government and IRA, exposed himself to attack from those still opposed to the North’s policing arrangements when he took on a key role on the body set up as part of a major overhaul of the largely Protestant force.

While his dispute with Sinn Féin remains ideological, dissident republicans singled him out for violent intimidation.

Bullets were sent through the post, death threats issued and his home petrol-bombed.

The sinister campaign took a terrifying turn when a thug battered him around the head with a baseball bat in a pub in Derry's Brandywell district last September.

He took weeks to recover from the attack, understandably shaken by how ferocious a minority were in their opposition to his support for the new policing regime in the North.

But Mr Bradley insisted he never felt like quitting, even though he recognised the anxiety it caused his wife and three children.

"There are some people who hit me over the head and put a few wee things outside my home," he accepted.

"But I don't think they were big in number and I don't think it was personal. Although that's maybe like the Mafia boss who's about to shoot you saying: 'This isn't personal'!

"I've never been terribly frightened, but then I lived for 20 years before that in the midst of stuff that was far more scary than this.

"I was involved with the Provos and British government and things like that.''

With a grin, he added: "Those were long dark nights when not a lot of things were happening. You were wondering who was going to find you out and take you out.''

One of the few certainties about the board, which is due to be reconstituted on April 1, is that Mr Bradley will not feature.

A major shake-up is expected among the 10 political seats, with Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists set to increase on their three members to reflect growing electoral strength.

The Ulster Unionists and SDLP are expected to lose a position each.

With Sinn Féin still refusing to accept its two places, Northern Secretary Peter Hain faces a challenge to prevent the authority becoming unionist-controlled.

He will wait for the parties to nominate representatives before deciding which independents could best achieve the delicate balance needed to protect the Board.

A major focus should be put on getting more women than the two current members, particularly as neither of them were political appointees, Mr Bradley insisted.

"There are about 60 people who have been shortlisted for independent seats; 40-60 people being interviewed," he said.

"I have no idea who will come out of that batch. But if the politicians once again fail to appoint any women to this board then the responsibility falls on the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) to try to equal that by putting women in. Our political parties have a responsibility not just to appoint men.''

Uncertainty still surrounds whether Board Chairman Sir Desmond Rea, with whom Mr Bradley formed a close working relationship, will stay on in the top role.

Unlike first time around, when the chair was appointed by the government, the members will elect from among their number.

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