Ex-RUC officer to head justice powers committee

A former Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer is set to take charge of an Assembly committee tasked with reporting on the transfer of policing and justice powers, it has emerged.

A former Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer is set to take charge of an Assembly committee tasked with reporting on the transfer of policing and justice powers, it has emerged.

Democratic Unionist sources confirmed Jimmy Spratt, who also served as a chairman of the Police Federation, has been tabled with the Stormont authorities to replace Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson as the chair of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee.

The committee is due to report back to the Assembly next week on the mechanics of the devolution of policing and justice and is expected to say the British government’s May deadline for transferring the powers cannot be achieved.

However, the DUP’s decision to nominate Mr Spratt also came amid signs of discontent in the party ranks over the appointment of Ian Paisley Jnr to the North’s Policing Board.

Mr Spratt was a policeman for 30 years, serving in Belfast and Derry and as a member of the close protection unit to Northern Ireland Office ministers, MPs and Chief Constables.

In 2005, he was chosen to run for the DUP in South Belfast in the General Election and missed out on capturing the seat which the SDLP’s Dr Alasdair McDonnell won.

Two years later, Spratt captured an Assembly seat.

On Friday night Ian Paisley Jnr, who formally stood down as a junior minister in the Stormont Executive last week following concerns over his links to a property developer, confirmed he would be rejoining the Policing Board which he served on between 2001 and 2007.

Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey claimed the appointment of the North Antrim MLA showed a disregard by the DUP for public opinion.

A source said: “There is considerable anger over the way Ian Jnr was appointed – the manner in which the news broke.

“MLAs were also annoyed by suggestions from him that somehow his appointment would ensure Sinn Féin would not be able to run rings around the Ulster Unionists on the board – that was seen as an implicit criticism of his DUP colleagues.

“The fact is this is not helping the mood of the party. We would have hoped that after Ian Jnr stepped down there would be a period of reflection.

“Instead his appointment has only exacerbated things. It could also have a knock-on effect for his father.”

Speculation has been mounting in recent weeks that senior DUP members have been working on a plan for Ian Paisley Snr to stand down soon as the North’s First Minister and party leader.

Mr Paisley is due to turn 82 next month.

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