It’s probably not the kind of dialogue the new Secretary of State had in mind.. But Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey claims to be “thoroughly baffled” at the reported comments of the DUP’s Nigel Dodds – although the SF spokesman quoted in the report seems more circumspect. I’m baffled that Alex Maskey apparently still thinks May 2008 is an enforceable deadline for devolving policing and justice powers, rather than a target date. And there’s no use pointing to St Andrews either. But don’t take my word for, go back to one of the numerous times I’ve pointed this out and read what the previous Secretary of State said when in the House of Commons – “the May 2008 timetable agreed in the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Act is a Government objective, to which all parties should work” – and read what the former NIO Minister David Hanson said in the same place. That target date may, or may not, be met. We’ll just have to wait and see what the committee’s assessment is.And I’ll repeat the question from Lib Dem MP Lembit Öpik, and the answer from David Hanson, that seems to clarify the situation best
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.