When is “a constitutional nonsense” not “a constitutional nonsense”?

I was just going to update an earlier post, but the report of what the Secretary of State for Wales, etc, Peter Hain has now said – after telling the transitional assembly sub-group on policing and justice that imposing a justice minister on an Assembly, against the Assembly’s wishes, would be “a constitutional nonsense” – deserves a post of its own. According to the PA report, Peter Hain is now saying that

“This is a backstop, the overwhelming preference is to do this by consent under the agreed proceedings. If we get to the stage where this process is deadlocked, perhaps around May 2008, then you have to look for an alternative legislative vehicle.” Mr Hain added that the appointee could be “somebody from a party outside the Executive or from outside the Assembly”.

And that makes it less of a nonsense how?The report also has some exchanges of party views on the triple-lock mechanism on devolving policing and justice

Mr Kelly said there was a triple lock enshrined in the legislation for devolution involving the need for cross-community support.

“What there can`t be is a veto against moving the whole process forward. We can`t have a situation where any party could delay the transfer of policing and justice or, indeed, the moving ahead of any of the institutions.”

He accused the rival nationalist SDLP of agreeing to the so-called triple lock.

“How can anybody argue that the people of Ireland will see a justice ministry as irrelevant? Tell that to the families of the people bereaved through car crime, talk to the victims of child abuse whose relatives want more local power.”

DUP policing spokesman Ian Paisley Jnr said the minister had accepted that it would be a nonsense for anyone to impose an outside solution.

“The Secretary of State has accepted that timing (of devolution of policing and justice powers) relies upon unionist confidence and that will happen when republicans deliver. It is not about a date, this is about confidence.”

He added that the triple lock remained in place.

There’s a quote from NIO Minister David Hanson, speaking in a Commons debate, that’s worth recalling at this point

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.[added emphasis]

And another reminder of what’s been mentioned before..

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