Frank Millar has some interesting detail on the back room fighting (sub needed) over the CRJ protocols, and a possibly bruising parliamentary session facing the government in the Autumn.
In its escalating campaign against the proposals in recent weeks, the SDLP has also insisted state-financed schemes must prove their impartiality, so effectively arguing this should preclude any scheme linked to Sinn Féin or any other political party. Questioning the “false urgency” generated by ministers, Mr Durkan has suggested the issue should properly be left to the substantive discussion Secretary of State Peter Hain says he intends to open with Sinn Féin come the autumn on policing and justice issues.
Having been promised a further 12-week consultation, the SDLP is seeking specific assurance that no decision will be taken to approve any scheme on the basis of the protocols published yesterday. And while they avoided having to face MPs and answer questions in the Commons yesterday, Mr Hain and Mr Hanson will face renewed parliamentary pressure in the autumn to put these schemes on a statutory basis and permit MPs and members of the House of Lords to vote on them.
In the meantime NIO ministers may find that the PSNI is not so content on second reading. The confident expectation has been that existing groups that do not support the PSNI would be unable to sign up for these protocols, and that the police will be centrally involved with any that do.
However, it is hard to see how these protocols can satisfy Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde’s requirement that CRJ schemes in Northern Ireland should be readily understood by police services throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. In evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee last November, Sir Hugh also argued that people associated with paramilitary groups and with “substantial previous convictions” would not have the necessary credibility to be associated with schemes purporting to make the community a safer place.
And he ends with some awkward questions:
Where will that particular line be drawn? Will people convicted for the murder of a policeman be refused, but the killers of ordinary citizens be deemed eligible? And what of those who inflicted punishment attacks, or “exiled” those who even now are not free to return home?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty