“Do not get hung up on dates. That is not critical.”

The House of Commons NI Grand Committee met yesterday, for a debate on policing reform which was described by NIO minister Paul Gogins as “excellent”. And in the course of that debate the DUP MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, who is also chair of the sub-committee of the Executive here tasked with assessing whether to request the transfer of powers on policing and justice from Parliament, set out the DUP’s position on that request [scroll down to column 35] – in case anyone is still “thoroughly baffled”

Let me be clear: the Democratic Unionist party will not support the devolution of policing and justice powers unless and until there is sufficient community confidence to ensure that policing and justice devolution can work effectively and have the support of the community. That will require a number of things to happen. I shall not list them for the Committee, but I will say the following. I agree with my right hon. Friend; there is no way that we will agree to the devolution of policing and justice powers when the IRA army council remains in place—no way. That is an issue that Sinn Fein will have to address and deal with.

A further point on the devolution of policing and justice powers is that we support it in principle and believe that it is desirable. However, it is desirable at the right time and under circumstances where there is sufficient community confidence. That is essential. I reiterate and reaffirm what my right hon. Friend said to the Minister: it would be wrong for the Government to start setting deadlines on that issue. Do not make May next year a deadline because it will have the potential seriously to undermine the political progress that has been made. Do not get hung up on dates. That is not critical. What is critical is that progress is made to build the confidence in the community that will enable policing and justice powers to be devolved to the Assembly in the right circumstances and with the right level of support. I hope that the Minister will take that on board.

And I’ll repeat the point I made in a previous post here

Here’s 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.