Empey’s empty threat?

So, the UUP leader Reg Empey has threatened to boycott the NI Policing Board should Secretary of State, Peter Hain, appoint two independent members to the positions which would otherwise be taken by Sinn Féin representatives, arguing that “This is a crisis in the making, we will not serve on a quango.”. Hmm.. there are some problems with that statement, and potentially with any attempt to replace SF appointees with independents. The first one being, technically, it’s already a quango.1. Under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, while the Assembly is suspended, all members of the Policing Board are currently appointed by the Secretary of State and he can select both the number of members and, after consultation naturally, who actually sits.

3. – (1) The Board shall consist of not less than 14 nor more than 19 members appointed by the Secretary of State.

(2) The Secretary of State may by order amend either or both of the numbers for the time being specified in sub-paragraph (1).

(3) The Secretary of State shall so exercise his powers of appointment under this paragraph as to secure that as far as is practicable the membership of the Board is representative of the community in Northern Ireland.

So the UUP are already serving on a quango.

2. If, however, Peter Hain wishes to maintain the policy of constituting the Board as if the Assembly was not suspended then, in accordance with the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, after allowing the political parties to nominate their representatives, he should re-appoint the independent places, the “9 [who] shall be appointed by the Secretary of State in accordance with paragraph 8” –

8. – (1) The Secretary of State shall so exercise his powers of appointment under paragraph 6(1)(b) as to secure that as far as is practicable the membership of the Board is representative of the community in Northern Ireland.

To be fair, Peter Hain has stated that the D’Hondt formula will be used to appoint all political members of the Policing Board

“I can tell the house today that I have decided to reconstitute the Board from 1 April 2006, with political appointees selected in proportion to the 2003 election results using the d’Hondt formula.”

Although he doesn’t specifically address what will happen when, or if, Sinn Féin refuse to take their seats – not even when asked directly in the House of Commons

Of course, by April it may all be academic.. which, undoubtedly, Peter Hain is hoping it will be. The alternative would be Sinn Féin suggesting, or approving, independent members to take their seats.. hmm..

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