“to protect the Policing Board’s integrity…”

In the absence of any further explanation from Sinn Féin for Caitríona Ruane’s dramatic flouncing off the NI Policing Board selection panel to recruit a new PSNI Deputy Chief Constable on Monday, her party colleague on the Board, Gerry Kelly, MLA, has attempted to defend her actions.

“If the process is wrong and particularly if the belief [is] that it is compromised, then there is a duty on that person to raise that and that’s what Caitríona Ruane did and I stand by her absolutely over it,” Mr Kelly [said].

That’s a big ‘if’.  Twice.  And let’s not forget that not only did Caitríona Ruane state her belief “that the process may have been compromised”, she went on to claim that

“In light of the need for absolute transparency in all public appointments and to protect the Policing Board’s integrity I believe the best course of action would be to begin a new recruitment process.”

Twice.  And in that second statement on the 15 Sept the Sinn Féin MLA also accused “other members of the Board” of engaging in “what seems to be an effort to circle the wagons.”

The NI Policing Board’s rejected Caitríona Ruane’s criticism of the selection process on Monday, as noted here, and their recommended candidate for the post of PSNI Deputy Chief Constable, Drew Harris, was duly appointed by the NI Justice Minister, the Alliance Party’s David Ford.

The Minister met with the Chair and Chief Executive of the Board to discuss the appointment process and approve the Board’s recommended candidate, in line with his responsibility to approve the appointment of senior officers.

He said: “I sought assurances from the Chair and Chief Executive on the appointments process in light of concerns raised by a panel member. On the basis of the assurances provided by the Chair and Chief Executive, I am content to approve the panel’s recommendation.”

As the BBC report notes, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly has resiled from his party’s previously stated position on re-running the recruitment process.  [Reverse ferret! – Ed]

[Gerry Kelly] said Sinn Féin would give its support to the new PSNI deputy chief constable

“Anyone who holds that position, and it is Drew Harris who holds that position, will have our support,” Mr Kelly said.

Which, at the very least, calls into question Caitríona Ruane’s judgement on the selection process, and her actions in unilaterally withdrawing from that process.  Because if Sinn Féin still believed that the selection process was “wrong”, or that it had been “compromised”, then they couldn’t stand over the outcome of that process.

A point picked up by the SDLP MLA, Dolores Kelly.

Ms Kelly, a member of the NI Policing Board who was on the panel said: “Catriona Ruane’s  actions were irresponsible and reprehensible. She made a public statement during a live process; a process I believe was robust and will stand up to scrutiny. The panel involved independent advisors who have been content with the process.” [added emphasis]

There is, however, a simple explanation for Sinn Fein’s Caitríona Ruane throwing the head up at the prospect of recommending Drew Harris for the post of PSNI Deputy Chief Constable.  From the BBC report

Sinn Féin’s opponents claimed the party simply did not like Mr Harris and did not want to have any part in appointing him.

Mr McIlveen said on Tuesday: “I think there has a message been sent out by Sinn Féin today, that if you are a police officer, and you sign an arrest warrant of any member within Sinn Féin, as the deputy chief constable Drew Harris did, then your prospects of promotion, as far as Sinn Féin are concerned, are considerably limited.

“I think this is belligerent, I think it is bigoted, and I think is sometime that, ultimately, further questions are going to have to be asked over the fitness of Sinn Féin to even be part of the Policing Board,” the DUP MLA added.

And from another Policing Board member in this Belfast Telegraph report

DUP Policing Board member Jonathan Craig accused Sinn Fein of playing games and said the party “does not want to be seen supporting the man who arrested their party leader”.

“I’m struggling to hear anyone explain what the procedural problem is.

“There is a hidden agenda here. Caitriona Ruane needs to explain her actions to the board and apologise to the board for making public statements while a process was taking place,” he added.

The BBC report includes Gerry Kelly’s response

However, Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly dismissed claims that his party was motivated by the arrest of their president.

“It’s complete nonsense, it’s all conjecture,” Mr Kelly said.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.  But in the absence of any actual explanation from Sinn Féin, we do have a Belfast Telegraph report on the Policing Board selection panel meeting

…this newspaper has been told concerns were only raised when it emerged Mr Harris, who heads up the PSNI’s Crime Operations, was the clear frontrunner for the post.

Sources said the two candidates for the job, current Assistant Chief Constables Mr Harris and Will Kerr, both attained the relevant scores during last week’s selection competition after which the new deputy was to be announced.

Afterwards a huge row erupted among Policing Board members, which was said to have lasted for almost 90 minutes.

During the heated exchanges it is claimed Ms Ruane argued that it was her belief neither candidate was suitable for the role.

“It stinks,” one source said.

“There was one clear leader who should have been appointed, but Sinn Fein kicked off an argument that neither had performed a good interview, yet they both had received the appointable mark.

“On a split vote it was agreed to re-interview the two individuals.”

The source said there was a perception within the board of a Sinn Fein agenda against Mr Harris.

And in May this year, Sinn Féin were briefing the press that they blamed Drew Harris for the arrest and questioning of their party president Gerry Adams, TD.  From a Belfast Telegraph report 7 May 2014

The senior police officer who is set to face the full Sinn Fein backlash over the arrest of Gerry Adams can be revealed by the Belfast Telegraph today.

He is Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris, who signed off on the arrest in his role as head of Crime Operations. He has been left in no doubt that the party leadership is furious with him.

A Sinn Fein source confirmed that it would use its influence at the Policing Board to raise its concerns. It is also likely to oppose Mr Harris’ candidature for Deputy Chief Constable if, as expected, he applies for the post later in the year. [added emphasis]

A senior Sinn Fein source has told this newspaper that the party blames Mr Harris and his department for the decision to arrest Mr Adams last week and there are fears that the working relationship between the party and the senior officer at Policing Board level has broken down.

Which brings us back to the present, and unanswered questions

Caitriona Ruane withdrew from the interview panel claiming the process had been compromised, but neither she nor anyone else from the party has elaborated or given any convincing explanation for her action.

While it is to be welcomed that the party yesterday accepted Mr Harris’ appointment and promised to support him, it also left itself open to criticism from other parties.

They claimed that Ms Ruane’s actions were in response to the arrest of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams earlier this year by police investigating the 1972 murder of Jean McConville, one of the Disappeared. Mr Harris had apparently authorised the arrest.

Denials by the party that this played any part in Ms Ruane’s actions seem hollow in the absence of any alternative explanation.

Sinn Fein now needs to explain clearly why it regarded the selection process as compromised and why Ms Ruane believed a new process was required to protect the integrity of the Policing Board.

If it cannot then it must unequivocally withdraw the allegations and repeat its full support for the new Deputy Chief Constable.