Action promised to restore Northern Ireland Policing Board
New legislation could be brought forward this autumn to allow the Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB) to meet for the first time in over a year.
The collapse of the Stormont Executive last year has rendered the NIPB without the proper legal authority to oversee the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
Now Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has threatened to introduce legislation that would let the UK Government appoint people to the organisation unless the impasse is resolved.
Officials have already been instructed to start drafting the legislation, which would also seek to address the lack of progress with the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland.
Ms Bradley said: “The UK Government’s priority is to restore the devolved institutions at Stormont. In the meantime, I have been clear that I will continue to take any urgent and necessary action to protect good governance and the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.
“I hope that an accommodation can be reached and an Executive formed so that Northern Ireland Ministers can make these important appointments in the autumn.
“If not, I am prepared to bring forward legislation to enable these appointments to be made to ensure that these bodies can continue their vital work.”
Responsibility for appointing people to Northern Ireland’s public positions usually lies with Stormont’s Justice Minister.
However, power-sharing arrangements between unionist and nationalist politicians collapsed in January 2017 when Sinn Fein refused to return to the Executive.
The absence of an Assembly has left the NIPB, which approves senior appointments and oversees the PSNI’s three-year policing plan, unable to meet for the last 18 months.
The NIPB is meant to have 19 members but lacks its political membership as new appointments cannot currently be made.
In the next few months, it is due to begin the process of finding a successor for Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris, who was recently appointed commissioner for An Garda Siochana.
The Judicial Appointments Committee has also seen membership levels reduce dramatically and the Probation Board’s entire membership will expire in November unless new appointments are made.
Welcoming Ms Bradley’s announcement, NIPB chair Anne Connolly said: “Whilst I along with independent members colleagues have been working to keep the structures of police accountability in place, without a legally constituted membership the Board’s range of statutory duties, including senior officer appointments, could not be discharged.
“The prevailing situation has been deeply concerning and frustrating for me as board chair as there are many issues that need addressed and progressed.
“It is positive the Secretary of State has now indicated that legislation will be introduced in the autumn to progress appointments to the board which will hopefully allow the board to become fully operational again.”