Given the current situation, and the apparent inability of some to recognise the reality of that situation, it’s worth recalling some of the inter-party discussions which were on the record.. and in particular a contribution from the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long in
Hain’s the Preparation For Government Committee on 9th August last year. [useful things archives – Ed]From the archive
Mrs Long: For policing and justice powers to be devolved, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister must put a motion jointly to the Assembly, which would be subject to a cross-community vote. The Secretary of State would then have to ensure that the appropriate conditions were in place, and a vote would be held in Westminster. That is laid out in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006. Therefore, the powers cannot be devolved unless they achieve cross-community confidence.
Taking that as read, is it possible to set a target date by which policing and justice powers can be devolved? It is possible to suggest that conditions must be right and, at the same time, suggest that a target date should be set – those propositions are not mutually exclusive. Setting such a date puts down a marker – members are not saying that devolution of those powers will happen in two years’ time, but simply that it is their wish that it should happen then. It shows that they are prepared to commit to working towards it. That is important for those who believe that the issue of devolution is a key part of this negotiation process. Indicating at least a willingness to move forward does not mean that in two years’ time all the other locks can be unpicked. It is simply a matter of showing willing, and it is important that members are willing to set a date.
I do not want to set a prescriptive date or deadline. It would be pointless to suggest that if this issue were not cleared up in two years’ time, the entire matter should fall apart on that hook. However, it is important to set a target towards which we can work in respect of the legislative framework, and so on. At a certain point, the Secretary of State will also need to introduce legislation to allow for policing and justice powers to be devolved. A process must be entered into, and a two-year target is not an unreasonable one.[added emphasis]
And another reminder of the St Andrews’ Agreement text, paragraph 7, as discussed previously here
7. Discussions on the devolution of policing and justice have progressed well in the Preparation for Government Committee. The Governments have requested the
parties to continue these discussions so as to agree the necessary administrative arrangements to create a new policing and justice department. It is our view that implementation of the agreement published today should be sufficient to build the community confidence necessary for the Assembly to request the devolution of criminal justice and policing from the British Government by May 2008.[extra added emphasis]
That previously noted post also details the inclusion of the target date in the legislation.
And I’ve tried to point out how that confidence will be needed in order to proceed with devolving powers on policing and justice.
Another archive gem can be found in Mick’s reaction, in October, to Sinn Féin’s self-imposed conditions
None of this is disablingly specific. But if a similar motion were adopted for the party’s special Ard Fheis we might expect some vigorous debate around the precise meaning of the term ‘acceptable timeframe’. In the past, the DUP has argued that it is not a matter of time, but of judging the quality of Sinn Fein’s committment to the rule of law.
Intriguingly, the St Andrews Agreement does contain a timeline, albeit one that allows for considerable and unspecified slippage. But, it seems, devolution of policing powers to a local minister has been relegated to last place on the list. And oversight of MI5 would seem to remain with Westminster.
That’s the background as I see it. And the
question reality again..