Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

“The real horse trading [over Justice Ministry] is likely to happen between party leaders…”

Tue 8 November 2011, 9:03pm

And only two parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin have the necessary votes to trade…   ANYhoo, as I mentioned during the Sinn Féin ard fheis when the deputy chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Justice Committee, and noted plagiarist, Raymond McCartney complained that “David Ford’s department [of Justice] is like Jurassic Park.”

…if Sinn Féin aren’t happy with David Ford as Northern Ireland Justice Minister then they, and the DUP, can always find someone else to agree on…

They, both parties, have to agree on someone by 1 May 2012.

Technically, as I pointed out here, the options available to the Assembly would seem to be (1) continue with the current system of cross-community vote to appoint a NI Justice Minister, (2) replace the current system with an agreed system of appointing a NI Justice Minister(s) [various options available, default system D'Hondt], (3) “provide for the department to be in the charge of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister acting jointly”.

But the NI Assembly must choose one of those options by 1 May 2012.  And if they wish to continue with the current system it has to be on the basis of a cross-community vote.

Otherwise the NI Justice department will be dissolved on 1 May 2012.

Today, as Mark Devenport informs us, “with six months to go until the potential dissolution of the department we still don’t know how the matter will be resolved.”

The real horse trading is likely to happen between party leaders, but Stormont’s Assembly Executive and Review Committee has been asked to formally review the options. The parties have submitted their preferences ahead of a committee meeting next week.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP want the justice job to be handed out like all the other portfolios, according to the d’Hondt proportional system. The Ulster Unionists say the review should provide an opportunity to reduce the number of Stormont departments.

The Greens say the position in which Alliance holds twice the number of departments as a party with double the number of MLAs is “undemocratic” and the appointment process should now be “normalised”.

The DUP supports either continuing the current cross-community vote or bringing justice into the d’Hondt handout, under certain conditions. The DUP acknowledges that Alliance’s two places in the executive “gives rise to unfairness” in comparison to the UUP and the SDLP. The party’s submission says that any change should be subject to a reduction in the number and reorganisation of Stormont’s departments.

And the party whose leader currently holds the Justice Minister’s post?  Mark Devenport again.

Not surprisingly the current incumbents, Alliance, are most enthusiastic about continuing the current cross-community compromise.

Indeed.  Although they appear to be a little sensitive to the charge of self-interest

 In order to deflect any potential criticism that they wish to hang on to justice for self-interest, the Alliance leader David Ford uses his submission to offer to resign or face a motion of no confidence in May next year, so the assembly can – if it wishes – elect a new minister.

An offer which becomes the ultimate political self-sacrifice in the BBC report’s headline – “David Ford will resign to save devolution of justice”.

Hardly.  In circumstances where the DUP and Sinn Féin agreed to continue with the current [cross-community vote] system to elect the next NI Justice Minister – i.e. the conditions under which the offer has been made – just whom, or which party, does he imagine they would have already agreed to support in the post?

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Comments (31)

  1. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    I would guess that Ford is secure in his position and that the assembly will simply resolve to have him continue in post past May 2012 if they have not come up with a better plan by them. This is a simple motion that can be placed before the assembly and does not require legislation.

    So the question is .. what are their alternatives between now and then ? I do not believe that the option of placing the department under the control of OFMDFM is acceptable to the DUP (or anyone with any brain cells still working, given OFMDFM’s characteristic paralysis in decision making). And winding up the department is clearly not acceptable to SF. So fundamentally the choice is the same as it always has been – it either has to be Ford, or someone from either the DUP or SF. I don’t see that as being something that will change within the next six months.

    Slugger trivia fans may or may not be aware that Ford is the only minister who has a permanent police security detail. I heard a rumour a while back that this arrangement will remain in place for life. Accordingly, making regular changes to whoever the justice minister is creates an obvious issue of the expense of providing this level of protection.

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  2. joeCanuck (profile) says:

    2 questions:

    . Do the DUP and SF still not trust each other enough that d’Hondt can be applied?
    . Do the terms and conditions of the office prevent a Minister from misbehaving?

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  3. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    Joe,

    (1) no

    (2) the Justice Minister signs the same ministerial code as all the other ministers. Unlike the other ministers, he can be removed from office with a simple vote in the assembly.

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  4. Michael Shilliday (profile) says:

    Curious about your assertion that the Assembly MUST pick an option and cannot sit on it’s hands, because I think you’re wrong. Where do you get that idea from? What happens if they do sit on their hands?

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  5. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Michael

    From the relevant legislation [linked here]

    8(1)The department dissolves on 1 May 2012 unless, before 1 May 2012—

    (a)the Assembly resolves that the department is to continue operating from 1 May 2012 [passed with cross-community support], or

    (b)a second Act of the Assembly (“the second Act”) makes provision authorised by sub-paragraph (3).

    i.e. if they sit on their hands, and don’t pass such a resolution [8(1)(a)], the department dissolves.

    Or they could agree an alternative.

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  6. iluvni (profile) says:

    …and if it dissolves, few would care and and we’d save a few million quid

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  7. Given what’s going to happen in the Prison Service and what did happen to Legal Aid, I reckon Ford may be saving us a few more million quid in position than out of it.

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  8. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    As Pete says the legislation was deliberately constructed to allow them to have a temporary solution in place but to force them to come to an agreement of some kind within a fixed timeframe. So an action of some kind prior to 1 May 2012 is essential.

    As I said earlier, given that the JM can be removed at any time by the DUP and SF there really is no reason for them to vote for an extension – they simply can remove Ford later, the instant it is convenient for them to do so.

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  9. FuturePhysicist (profile) says:

    The DUP had their choice with the yellow (i.e. very pale orange) party (possibly even over the APNI themselves who may’ve appointed their own Justice spokesperson Stephen Farry), clearly the necessary replacement should be from the Green Party.

    Steven Agnew – (Natural) Justice Minister.

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  10. Michael Shilliday (profile) says:

    I thought so, you are wrong. That provision is about the Justice department, not Justice powers. The DUP and Sinn Fein don’t have to do a thing if they don’t want to, there is no crisis here. Unless of course you count David Ford’s prospects of holding on to a ministerial car and twice the number of Ministers Alliance’s electoral performance deserves.

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  11. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    The DUP had their choice with the yellow (i.e. very pale orange) party

    If anyone is watching, the above meets my definition of a sectarian remark.

    Steven Agnew – (Natural) Justice Minister.

    I’d have no objections to this in principle, other than that Steven A is a newbie, and people like Ford and Farry have a couple of decades of experience and/or research behind them.

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  12. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    That provision is about the Justice department, not Justice powers.

    But it’s the department that we’re talking about.

    The DUP and Sinn Fein don’t have to do a thing if they don’t want to, there is no crisis here.

    You don’t think the dissolution of the justice department would be a crisis ?

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  13. Michael Shilliday (profile) says:

    No, because there is at least a suspicion that this is what was intended when the legislation was written early in 2009. We are talking about the Justice Department, but there is confusion between the distinction between what happens to the Department and the powers that it exercises.

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  14. 241934 john brennan (profile) says:

    What’s the betting nothing will change – and Sinn Fein will again agree that ‘no nationalist need apply’ – and that verdict will be indorsed by a cross community vote delivered by the SF/Dup duopoly – and that the Alliance nominee will again boast of cross community
    indorsement?

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  15. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Michael

    “I thought so, you are wrong.”

    Perhaps you could point to what it is you think I’ve got wrong?

    Feel free to make use of quotes…

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  16. SethS (profile) says:

    I think what MS is getting at is that the devolution of powers is separate from the Department of Justice, so the disappearance of the DOJ would not in itself mean the powers revert to reserved status.

    Given the byzantine nature of the legislation, its difficult to acertain, but the as far as I can tell justice powers are devolved by the “The Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010″ which is a separate piece of legislation. There does not appear to be any clause (though I may be wrong) that reverts the justice powers if the DOJ ceases to exist. From my reading the powers cannot be re-reserved without a further order under the 1998 Act (as detailed in section 86 3A).

    There also appears to be nothing in the Northern Ireland Act 2009, which refers to revesion of powers either.

    This does appear to leave things in a bit of a limbo should the Assembly do nothing in the meantime.

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  17. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    SethS

    “I think what MS is getting at is that the devolution of powers is separate from the Department of Justice, so the disappearance of the DOJ would not in itself mean the powers revert to reserved status.”

    I get that part, although Michael’s only mentioned the first half. I just fail to see what it has to do with [what I've said in] my original post. [Particularly how it makes what I've said "wrong".]

    “This does appear to leave things in a bit of a limbo should the Assembly do nothing in the meantime.”

    That’s the understatement of the day!

    Of course, Michael doesn’t see a crisis there…

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  18. SethS (profile) says:

    The legislation appears to have been written with an assumption that the scenario in 8(1) just isn’t going to happen. Notwithstanding the probable chaos, it would be interesting to see what would happen if we had devolved powers but no justice ministry. Would the FM/DFM just be able to divvy them up as they saw fit?

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  19. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    SethS

    “Would the FM/DFM just be able to divvy them up as they saw fit?”

    They have option 3 – “provide for the department to be in the charge of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister acting jointly”.

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  20. Michael Shilliday (profile) says:

    “Of course, Michael doesn’t see a crisis there…”

    Bit odd to ask the question when an hour later you have the answer.

    “there is at least a suspicion that this is what was intended when the legislation was written early in 2009″

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  21. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Michael

    You’re not making any sense.

    Where do you envisage those powers ending up? Is that what you’ve been hinting at with your line – “there is at least a suspicion that this is what was intended when the legislation was written early in 2009″?

    And what exactly is that you think I’ve got wrong in the original post?

    Again, feel free to make use of quotes…

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  22. joeCanuck (profile) says:

    Is option 3 a realistic one? Are the FM and DFM so underworked that they have the time to run a ministry?

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  23. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    Michael, I’d like to understand why exactly you think that the dissolution of the justice ministry will not be a crisis. Don’t you think SF might have something to say about it ?

    Joe .. I wouldn’t be especially surprised if we saw Option 3 being put into place. Back a few years ago, one of the options for justice under discussion was to have a minister directly appointed and controlled by OFMDFM. I think SF would go for that, but the DUP would not.

    Aside from the logistics, the OFMDFM in general seems to be very slow at getting anything done at all. I would much rather see it under the control of a regular minister (not necessarily Alliance, I don’t care who it is as long as they are competent and command cross community support).

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  24. SethS (profile) says:

    From my reading of the legislation if the Assembly did absolutely nothing the DOJ would be dissolved but the powers would remain devolved.

    It seems that the Assembly would be free to just do whatever it likes (presumably including just setting up a DOJ) without further legislation making the options listed a bit of red herring.

    It it the case that the do nothing position more or less voids the 2009 legislation and means the Assembly can decide on what to with justice powers without the contraints of that legislation?

    It seems hard to beleive that the Parliamentary draughtsmen would have left such a gaping hole – is there something else I’ve missed?

    Of course Westminister could pass primary legislation re-reserving all these powers if it felt like it I suppose – but that doesn’t seem likely.

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  25. FuturePhysicist (profile) says:

    If anyone is watching, the above meets my definition of a sectarian remark.

    Oh lighten up, it was meant to be read in the context with my comments about Agnew being “Green”. Internet doesn’t do Irony well.

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  26. Michael Shilliday (profile) says:

    CS, the Justice Department going the way of the parrot does NOT mean that we cease to have a Minister exercising those powers and the devolution of those powers is revoked. So no, I don’t think there is a crisis here and I don’t for a moment think that anyone involved, other than perhaps OFMdFM’s current pet Justice Minister, knew that there would be no crisis in March 2009 when the rules were written.

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  27. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Michael et al

    It’s not an exercise in semantics.

    You need to think through the political reality of the scenario ahead.

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  28. Michael Shilliday (profile) says:

    Pete,

    It’s a fairly daft assumption that I haven’t. The “scenario ahead” had it’s script written nearly 3 years ago.

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  29. Michael Shilliday (profile) says:

    I’ve put across what I said @1143 wrongly, it should read,

    I don’t for a moment think that anyone involved, other than perhaps OFMdFM’s current pet Justice Minister, didn’t know that there would be no crisis in March 2009 when the rules were written.

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  30. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Michael

    “It’s a fairly daft assumption that I haven’t.”

    I was giving you the benefit of the doubt…

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  31. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    (belatedly)

    Michael, I’m still not getting it. Explain to me what you think the “plan ahead” is concerning justice in 2012, considering you seem to believe that the dissolution of the department is a deliberate measure. In particular, I’d like you to explain why this post May 2012 form of justice powers was not implemented to begin with ?

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