Northern Ireland news

Concerns raised over Police Ombudsman role

Concerns have been raised about how Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire's successor will be appointed
Connla Young

Concerns have been raised over the process to replace Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire when he leaves his post next year.

Dr Maguire's seven year term as ombudsman is due to end in July 2019.

It is understood the appointment process could take up to nine months to complete.

He was appointed to the post in 2012 after a recommendation from former First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

The power to appoint to the key role was granted to local politicians under legislation linked to the devolution of policing and justice in 2010.

However, with the collapse of the assembly last year and with no prospect of it being restored any time soon, fears have been raised over the appointment of a successor.

The lack of an assembly has had an impact on other high profile organisations including the Policing Board, which has had no political representatives since last year.

It is understood appointments to the post before 2010, which include former holders Nuala O'Loan and Al Hutchinson, would have been made by the secretary of state.

The establishment of the ombudsman's office was seen by many as a critical part of building confidence in policing structures after the Good Friday Agreement.

The office currently investigates complaints made about the conduct of serving members of the PSNI.

Its historical directorate has also been responsible for carrying out investigations focusing on collusion between the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries.

It is understood the current ombudsman is close to completing several major investigations where police agents are suspected of working inside loyalist and republican paramilitary organisations.

In a statement last The Executive Office said: “The appointment of a new Police Ombudsman is a matter for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

“The appointment term of the current Police Ombudsman ends in July 2019.

“The Executive Office is considering how the appointment process will be taken forward in the continuing absence of ministers.”

Former SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly voiced her concerns.

“There is no other platform for holding the police to account publicly and that is a serious concern,” she said.

“There has to be an understanding that in the absence of an assembly there are key services that have to be protected and not allowed to stop.”

Director of Relatives for Justice Mark Thompson urged the secretary of state Karen Bradley to use her powers to allow Dr Maguire to “remain in post until normal recruitment procedures can take place”.

“If Karen Bradley did not do this then the Ombudsman's Office, all the staff, would cease to function,” he said.

A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman said that the ombudsman's term ends in 2019 and “it's going to be a busy year.

“There are a lot of significant investigations he would like to get completed,” he said.

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