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Mary Lou McDonald says she has 'nothing to apologise for' following PSNI chief constable remarks

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald speaking in south Belfast on Monday. Picture by Hugh Russell

SINN Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has insisted "there's nothing to apologise for" following condemnation of her controversial comments that there is no credible candidate within the PSNI to replace outgoing chief constable George Hamilton.

The Equality Commission and the Police Federation both expressed concerns her comments could harm the selection process for Mr Hamilton's successor.

At Leinster House in Dublin yesterday, Ms McDonald remained defiant about the comments made during a press conference during which she claimed the PSNI had "zero credibility" in its handling of cases linked to the legacy of the Troubles.

"There's nothing to apologise for, there's no retraction to be made," she said, dismissing criticism of her remarks as "political huffing and puffing".

Ms McDonald added she had "no role" in appointing the next chief constable.

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"I was asked could I identify someone from the senior team who I thought ought to be chief (constable) and the truth is I can't," she said.

"Be clear on this, I am not going to decide who the chief constable is.

"Yes, we make appointments to the Policing Board and when people are appointed to the Policing Board they act in accordance with the statutory scheme, the rules and regulations - the letter of them.

"And I would expect and insist that any Sinn Féin appointee behaves in that manner."

The Equality Commission has written to the NI Policing Board - which will appoint the new chief constable - to say it must recruit in a non-discriminatory way under equality legislation.

Dr Michael Wardlow from the commission said: "Fair employment and equal opportunities legislation are built upon open and transparent practices, free from political interference and based upon the merit principle.

"This approach has been important in helping to create fair employment procedures on which all prospective applicants can rely.

"The Policing Board will need to ensure that the principles of equality law are applied fully and rigorously in the forthcoming competition for a new chief constable and that all involved are aware of the critical importance of this."

Mark Lindsay, chairman of Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents rank and file officers, called for Sinn Féin to apologise, describing Ms McDonald's remarks as "wholly inappropriate and offensive".

"This amounts to extraordinary interference in an open and transparent selection process", he said, adding there was an "implication" anyone from the PSNI's senior team may not be given "a fair hearing".

Ms McDonald's remarks have also raised questions about whether any of the three Sinn Féin members on the board will be able to sit on the interview panel.

Ulster Unionist Alan Chambers said: "Unless Sinn Fein’s representatives on the Policing Board publicly disassociate themselves from their party leader’s comments, doubts will inevitably arise as to their ability to act impartially in terms of senior staff appointments, and that is in nobody’s interests."

The DUP's Mervyn Storey said he has written to the policing board seeking legal advice about Ms McDonald’s comments. He said: "How can any Sinn Féin member sit on that panel and candidates from the PSNI expect to get a fair hearing?".

Sinn Féin policing board member Gerry Kelly yesterday attempted to defend his party leader, stating she "doesn't know any of the people in the top team" of the PSNI, other than one senior officer.

"Anybody who applies for this job, or other jobs, will be looked upon on their merit, with absolute objectivity on whether they are capable of doing the job or not," he told the BBC Nolan Show.

"This is a public appointments process so there are independent people there who will make sure the process goes through."

He added "there are clearly people capable of doing the chief constable's job wherever they come from whether that is within the PSNI or outside".

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the Sinn Féin leader's comments as "ill-thought out" which do little to resolved "major challenges in policing today".

"There's a process for filling key positions. It should be followed," he added.

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