Policing remains an issue for disagreement.

The Irish Times has a report by Frank Millar that may hint at a sticking point for a ‘deal’ which the wider media has, thus far, neglected to mention – the devolution of policing powers.From the briefings, which Frank Millar reports are coming from SF sources, the view is that there will be no devolved policing powers until 2006 – at the earliest.

Leaving aside the fact that the DUP are arguing that they, ultimately, will have a veto on whether that eventually happens, the prospect of the policing issue being resolved as part of a wider package in the next week is, IMO, unlikely.

Think about it this way – will SF join the Policing Board without their frequently cited demand for ‘local politicians in control of policing’? Adams couldn’t even admit to discussing policing with Hugh Orde yesterday.

Would the DUP accept SF on the Policing Board while refusing to vote for devolved powers because, presumably, of on-going party-political links to criminal activity?

The benefits for both parties in putting this issue on the ‘long finger’ is that they can both fight election campaigns pointing to further ‘negotiations’ still to come.. that’s been the card they’ve successfully played to date and it’s unlikely to be dropped out of the hand just yet.

The draw-back for everyone else is that, even if they say ‘Aye’ – and the schedule for the two governments ‘calling it’ keeps getting pushed back in the hope that it will be ‘Aye’ – there will remain at least one issue that will resurface, again and again and again.

There is one additional point to raise on the policing issue – should we actually have any politicians ‘in control’ of local policing?

The [edited] article reads –

SF insists on local control of policing timetable
Frank Millar, London Editor

Sinn Féin would require the DUP to agree to a timetable for the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Stormont Assembly as part of any overall deal to restore the power-sharing Executive.

This was confirmed last night after the Sinn Féin president, Mr Gerry Adams, held a “useful” first meeting with the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Mr Hugh Orde, at 10 Downing Street.

Mr Adams emerged from his lengthy talks with Mr Orde stressing the “collective responsibility” of all sides to produce “a comprehensive, holistic agreement”, which he said must be “about putting the Good Friday agreement in place”.

Party sources later told The Irish Times they interpreted this as meaning an agreement “which deals with all the issues, including the arms issue, demilitarisation and policing”.

Senior DUP sources have made clear in private that they do not envisage the devolution of policing powers within the lifetime of the current Assembly.

And reports believed to have emanated from within the DUP about the current British-Irish proposals for restoring the Assembly and Executive have suggested the party believes it has an effective power of veto over when such devolution might take place.

That interpretation is supported in turn by Section 17 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which provides that the abolition of any existing Stormont department, or the creation of a new one, must be approved by a cross-community vote in the Assembly.

However, when asked if this meant Sinn Féin could in fact have no guarantee as to when, or if, devolution of policing and justice powers would occur, usually reliable sources said “the timetable for devolution would have to be agreed as part of what Gerry Adams has called ‘a comprehensive agreement’.”

The sources confirmed in addition that Sinn Féin requires new legislation to effect further policing reforms it says are necessary to finally implement the full recommendations of the Patten Commission report.

Sinn Féin is understood to be working to a projected timetable of between 12 and 18 months, pointing to the creation of a new Stormont policing and justice ministry in the early part of 2006.

© The Irish Times