Sinn Fein leader and NI police chief hold ‘frank and constructive’ meeting

The leader of Sinn Fein and Northern Ireland’s police chief have held a frank and constructive meeting.

Mary Lou McDonald and George Hamilton had a conversation in Washington DC on Thursday to discuss their dispute over the Chief Constable’s potential successor.

It comes after Mrs McDonald said she would not have confidence in any current member of the PSNI senior command team replacing Mr Hamilton when he retires in the summer.

A spokesman for Sinn Fein said Mrs McDonald raised the issue of the failure of the PSNI to disclose information about historical killings to Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman.

He said the Sinn Fein president had raised her concerns about the matter to Mr Hamilton.

“It was a frank meeting but it was a constructive meeting as well,” the spokesman said.

Leo Varadkar visit to US – Day 1
Leo Varadkar visit to US – Day 1

“The big issue and where there is agreement here is that we need to remove legacy policing from contemporary policing.”

The PSNI confirmed the meeting took place.

Speaking ahead of their meeting, Mrs McDonald said: “We are going to meet to discuss primarily issues around dealing with legacy, the PSNI disclosing and co-operating with the police and the ombudsman and other bodies, and I think we will have a frank conversation.

“My interactions with George Hamilton have always been open and direct and I imagine that tomorrow (Thursday) will be no different.”

The Sinn Fein spokesman said Mrs McDonald also raised her concerns about the court case against Belfast journalist Trevor Birney at the meeting.

Mr Birney was arrested six months ago over the alleged theft of confidential material from the offices of the Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire.

The material relates to a police investigation into the murder of six men in Loughinisland.

The Sinn Fein president’s remarks about the next chief constable triggered a furore last month.

Mr Hamilton responded in robust terms, accusing her of poor leadership and suggesting she had “contaminated” and “interfered” with the selection process.

Mrs McDonald’s assertion, from which she has not resiled, came after she met bereaved families caught up in a controversy involving the PSNI’s failure to disclose documents about killings to the Ombudsman.

The PSNI’s oversight body – the Northern Ireland Policing Board – is responsible for appointing the chief constable.

Ordinarily, a Sinn Fein appointee would be on a board panel – made up of party political and independent board members – which makes the decision.

That practice was thrown into doubt following Mrs McDonald’s remarks, for a time raising the prospect of a panel without Sinn Fein representation, or without any political appointees at all.

But, after taking legal advice, the Policing Board ultimately decided to press ahead with a panel featuring political representatives, including Sinn Fein.