“They accept that there may be some slippage..”

As was expected, the issue of the devolution of policing and justice powers featured heavily when Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern met in Manchester.

“We stand ready to help the political parties as they work to complete the process of devolution through the devolution of policing and justice powers.” They added: “Having seen the huge progress made, we are convinced that the time is right for the parties to move forward and take the final steps towards full devolution and full normality.”

Northern Ireland First minister, the DUP’s Ian Paisley, responded this morning

“We have no St Andrews Agreement on this issue,” he said. “This idea that it must be done by May is not our idea and we never agreed to it.”

That response echoed that of the Finance minister, the DUP’s Peter Robinson, last night

“While Mr Brown and Mr Ahern may feel the ‘time is right’ we do not hold to such a view while the IRA Army Council still exists, neither the funding package nor modalities are agreed and other issues remain unresolved, ” he said, noting that rather than deadlines and dates, he ought to address the resource and other pressures’ impact on the effectiveness of the police as priority.

While, unreported elsewhere, the Irish Times has an additional quote worth noting, from a spokesman for the Taoiseach [subs req]

Despite this call [From the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach], however, Mr Ahern’s spokesman acknowledged that the deadline was not likely to be met: “They accept that there may be some slippage, but that should not be seen as a failure,” he said.

The Irish Times report has more of Peter Robison’s comments [subs req]

Last night DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson contested the two premiers’ view that the “time is right” for devolution of policing and justice.

“We do not hold to such a view while the IRA army council still exists, neither the funding package nor modalities are agreed and other issues remain unresolved,” he said.

“If Mr Brown really wants to respond to the people, he ought to listen to their growing lack of confidence in the ability of the PSNI to address the rising rate of crime. Rather than discussing deadlines and dates, he ought to address the resource and other pressures which are having such an adverse impact on the operational effectiveness of our police service. That should be his priority.”

He warned: “Ultimately, the decision to devolve the powers will be made by the Assembly, but not until we are satisfied beyond doubt that the circumstances are right and that there is the necessary confidence and support within the community.”

Meanwhile Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey has repeated a previous claim

“The transfer of powers on Policing and Justice was a key element in the negotiations that led to the restoration of the political institutions. There was agreement on the transfer of Policing and Justice and much work is ongoing to pave the way for this to happen.

“The British government’s commitment to the devolution of Policing and Justice Powers by May 2008 was central to the decision of republicans and nationalists to engage with the policing structures earlier this year. Bertie Ahern and Gordon Brown have again emphasised the requirement that this is the next step for local politicians.”

But as I pointed out previously

If Sinn Féin had been paying attention they’d know what even the current Northern Ireland Secretary of State knows – “It is for the parties to decide when the time is right..”

Of course the apparent confusion among Sinn Fein MLAs is necessary because the leadership told the party membership that, rather than the previous internal party arrangement, the leadership would only commit the party to supporting the police and the criminal justice system under certain conditions

“That this Ard Fheis endorses the Ard Chomhairle motion. That the Ard Chomhairle is mandated to implement this motion only when the power-sharing institutions are established and when the Ard Chomhairle is satisfied that the policing and justice powers will be transferred. Or if this does not happen within the St Andrews timeframe, only when acceptable new partnership arrangements to implement the Good Friday Agreement are in place.” [added emphasis]

The reality is that devolution of policing and justice powers can only happen following a joint request from the First and deputy First Ministers, confirmed by a vote in the Assembly, and agreed by Parliament.

Imposing those powers against the wishes of the Assembly would be a “constitutional nonsense” – and, importantly, “it is not the intention—nor is the power available to the Government—to do that.”

Adds More quotes from the NI First minister Ian Paisley

“Our 2007 election manifesto stated quite clearly that this move `can only happen when there is the necessary support within the community`. As First Minister I have absolutely no intention of bringing such a proposal to the Assembly as the necessary conditions do not exist.

“I do not sense any desire amongst the electorate for the devolution of policing and justice. Therefore I do not foresee a proposal being brought to the Assembly in the near future.

“I have asked the Prime Minister for an urgent meeting to discuss this issue.

“I will not be bullied or cajoled by either Gordon Brown or the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic.”