The Secretary of State for Wales, etc, Peter Hain seems to have been at his most optimistic this morning at NI Questions, declaring that “All remaining obstacles to devolution in Northern Ireland have been removed”.. of course he’s referring to the 26th March deadline and not the target date of May 2008 for devolving policing and justice. And while some may still think that a target date is not important, it has the potential to cause a future crisis.. perhaps even as soon as the post-election period.Take the statement from Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly yesterday which, as you’d expect, echoes the party’s motion
“It is clear that the transfer of powers is critical to realising the fundamental reform of the criminal justice system and the new beginning to policing envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.
“Sinn Féin want this to happen sooner rather than later. The British Government have signalled that, in the event of a refusal by the DUP to agree the transfer of powers in the timescale set out in St Andrews they will take the necessary steps to ensure this happens. There must be no retreat from this commitment and any steps considered necessary to give effect to this commitment must be consistent with the Good Friday Agreement.” [added emphasis]
That was before the new clause was added to the Justice and Security Bill in the Commons last night
And NIO miniister David Hanson restated the government position this morning
We can move forward to the day when the devolution process is complete.
That will come with the devolution of policing and justice powers.
The Government has said that that should be achieved by May 2008.
All that has happened since the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis has reinforced our view that ‘delivery’ can and will be done by May 2008.
Provided Sinn Fein continue to follow through on the clear commitment that they have given to support for policing and the courts — in the terms set out in paragraph six of the St Andrews Agreement and enshrined in the Ministerial Pledge of Office — then there is absolutely no reason why those powers will not be devolved in May 2008.” [added emphasis]
As Peter Hain has already stated, there will be an ongoing monitoring of that delivery.
Lembit Öpik: I understand what the Minister says is the intent of the Bill, but will he answer the following question? Is it theoretically possible for a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to use the powers in the new clause to establish a functioning Department if the Assembly does not support that or if it has major doubts about it?
Mr. Hanson: No, it is not the intention—nor is the power available to the Government—to do that. Under the proposed legislation, the Government can establish a Department. That does not mean that the devolution of functions will occur, nor that the transfer will occur. They are subject to legislation that we have discussed previously in the House. [added emphasis]