The Northern Ireland chief constable’s criticism of Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald has been labelled political by a party colleague.
Sinn Fein Policing Board member Gerry Kelly stood only yards from George Hamilton as he denounced Mrs McDonald at Policing Board headquarters in Belfast on Tuesday.
Addressing the media immediately after the PSNI chief constable accused Mrs McDonald of poor leadership, Mr Kelly said: “He has accused Mary Lou of all sorts of things, and so have yous, and so have other people.”
Mr Kelly said his party would consider the legal advice offered by Policing Board lawyers as to whether his leader’s remarks on the recruitment of the next chief constable had compromised the process.
“I think the chief constable, perhaps led a bit by yourselves, was more than political when he was answering those questions over a period of 20 minutes,” he added.
“We have received legal advice, we will go away, it involves comments that were made not only by Mary Lou but by others, and that is the property of the Policing Board. I am not going into the detail of that.”
Mr Kelly said the panel established by the board to select the next chief would be “fair and open” and only select a candidate on the basis of “merit”.
DUP board member Mervyn Storey accused Mrs McDonald of “damaging” the merit principle.
“There is a sense of irony that the party that shouts most about equality has now actually seriously damaged the issue of equality,” he said.
Mr Storey said the remarks had caused “grave concern”.
“I think regrettably you can see there is no intent on the leadership of Sinn Fein and Mary Lou as the president of that party to apologise, in fact she has described reaction to her comments as huffing and puffing. Well, this is a very serious issue,” he said.
SDLP board member Dolores Kelly said: “We are in this place seeking legal advice because of what Mary Lou McDonald has said. This is a hole that Sinn Fein has dug for the Policing Board and, more particularly, for themselves.
“They have done damage to the hard-won equality legislation and principles of fair employment that the SDLP, and many others, fought for over many years, coming from the civil rights movement.
“Sinn Fein needs to find a fix around this. What we all want to seek is the best person for the job, regardless of where they come from.”