Of triple and quadruple locks

As I may have mentioned previously, whether or not the policing issue can be resolved will likely be the deciding factor in any deal by November, Brian Walker was of the same opinion in the Belfast Telegraph a couple of days ago. So it’s interesting to note that during the third reading of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, the government tweaked the triple-lock to add a couple of conditions to the first stage – 1. The Assembly motion requesting that the Secretary of State devolves policing and justice powers will have to be tabled by both the First and Deputy First Ministers acting jointly.As the NIO Minister David Hanson explained in the debate

It has always been the Government’s position that policing and justice can be devolved on a sustainable basis only with broad cross-community support. We have put in place a triple lock, as the Assembly must wish to have devolution, the Secretary of State must wish to agree it on behalf of the Government, and the House of Commons must approve it. Consistent with that position, it is our view that the support of the majority of sections of the community in Northern Ireland is essential if the devolution of policing and justice is to succeed. The amendments give legal effect to that position. New subsection (2A) inserted into section 4 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 by new clause 3(3) accordingly provides that the Secretary of State shall not introduce an order to devolve policing and justice unless a number of caveats are in place.

First, the Assembly motion asking the Secretary of State to do that must be tabled by the First and Deputy First Ministers acting jointly. Secondly, that motion should receive support in the Assembly from a majority of designated Unionists and a majority of designated nationalists. Having listened to the discussion, it is self-evident that unless the Assembly has that support it is not worth considering forcing devolution on it. The fact that under the amendments the First and Deputy First Ministers would have to introduce a proposal shows that a majority of community support is necessary. We want a majority of nationalists and designated Unionists to support it, too. New clause 5 (5) introduces a drafting change to that effect.