Saturday 1 November 2008

Policing and Justice finishing line approaching?

Is the DUP talking tough all the way to the approaching finishing line?

In his speech to the DUP conference today, Peter Robinson said 'he wanted to see policing powers devolved, but only when the time was right'; "We will not budge until the terms are right and the conditions we set out in our manifesto have been met".

He did not define what he meant by 'the terms are right', and the manifesto makes no specific promises in relation to policing and justice, apart from a repeated insistence that it negotiated arrangements to ensure that there would be no Sinn Féin Policing and Justice Minister

In fact, all other preconditions set down in the manifesto by the DUP have clearly already been met. The manifesto states clearly that:

"The DUP is placing no new conditions on Sinn Fein. The conditions Sinn Fein must meet have been accepted and set out by both Her Majesty’s Government and the government of the Irish Republic.

Just as the governments set a condition, following negotiations with the DUP, that there must be decommissioning and an end to all paramilitary and criminal activity before Sinn Fein could enter government, so too did the governments accept the DUP stipulation that there must be public support for the police, courts and rule of law and it must be demonstrated in a tangible and practical way.

Additionally, the fourth of the manifesto's '7 principles' stated that "Terrorist structures and weaponry must be removed before the bar to the Stormont Executive can be opened."

But in 2007, following the election, the DUP entered government with Sinn Féin. Thus they considered that their manifesto promises had been met, and thet they considered that the 'terrorist structures and weaponry' had been removed.

So all that is left to obstruct the devolution of policing and justice is Robinson's vague 'terms' issue.

In the manifesto section Getting it right on the Devolution of Policing and Justice, the DUP states that "We have indicated that we do not believe there would be support for the devolution of such powers to a Sinn Fein Minister in the foreseeable future." These are clearly the 'terms' Robinson is referring to - the exclusion of a Sinn Féin Minister for Policing and Justice.

So at last there is some clarity. Policing and Justice can, and will, be devolved when there is a deal to exclude, at least for a while, a Sinn Féin minister. The recent talks between the parties about gifting the Minister post to the Alliance Party were clearly part of the attempts to get the 'terms right'.

Getting to the finishing line from where we are today seems like a very small step. A simple agreement between the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister stating that they will support the nomination of an Alliance Party Minister is all that is now needed. Are we finally close to the end of this ugly and unnecessary little obstacle?

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