CS Lewis’s house is suitably detached in a wealthy and very leafy part of East Belfast. That detachment may well have given rise to his quality literary flights of fancy. But Brian Walker reckons it’s going to take a few more trips back to that imaginary other world before the two governments can make a new agreement fly. He puts his finger on a very real, real world problem. The DUP and Sinn Fein’s hardline stances show no indication that either is willing to make the compromises that a new start, especially when it comes to the devolution of policing powers.
The default position is that DUP won’t share policing powers with Sinn Fein without a long period of quarantine – far longer than the four months envisaged for enactment in the comprehensive agreement and another 20 months after that for “confidence-building”. And Sinn Fein won’t sign up until a political deal is agreed, which would include the model for transferring the justice and policing powers.
And the potential for further unravelling remains with the limitations on those particular policing powers, which as Walker points out, are far from comprehensive:
A big headache for Sinn Fein is that the trumpeted handover of control was never likely to live up to the big build-up they were giving it. Powers over national security and terrorism will remain with the Secretary of State indefinitely. The operational independence of the Chief Constable and the independent authority of the Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman is guaranteed, limiting a local Policing Minister’s room for manoeuvre. The Secretary of State is likely to remain a player in other games too. Can you see cross community consent for ending 50:50 police recruitment? A new deal on parades? Or even flying a flag? Forget it.
On Sinn Fein’s sorest point of all, the “securocrats” will continue to operate, meaning the reformed Special Branch and MI5. The SDLP continue to fulminate about this too, but they would, I believe, accept the compromise of a split accountability. Under the compromise, with the PSNI in the lead security role, the Chief Constable would report to the Secretary of State on terrorism and national security matters including the MI5 function, and to a local minister for “ordinary” crime, Asbos and the like.