The Irish Times has a fascinatingly enigmatic statement from Peter Robinson. As CP Scott famously said, ‘comment is free, but facts are sacred’. It is a falsifiable fact that the 8th May was a target date, as the DUP claimed, and not, as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have, until recently contended, an enforceable deadline. Nevertheless, this looks like an agreement to take the discussion forward. Indeed, the statement harks back to a theme within Robinson’s maiden speech and points to the role of party leaders, other than himself and Gerry Adams. It may be an attempt to shift the debate from whether and when there will be devolution of policing and justice powers, to the question of to whom they should be devolved.
It is a matter of public record that in recent weeks I have discussed these important matters with the Deputy First Minister at some length and I also met and indicated to other party leaders that I want to examine these issues with them as well, said Mr Robinson. I expect I need hardly say that agreement on a way forward has not yet been reached but, for myself, while I cannot be certain, I am not gloomy about the prospects of reaching an agreement which could command the confidence of everyone.
I am committed and willing to intensify discussions with the Deputy First Minister and others in the period ahead to test the possibilities. I will not attempt to characterise anyone elses position but I can say that there is a growing understanding of all the concerns that attend this debate, including those I have articulated, and a serious engagement is under way on how to resolve those concerns.
I need not tell this audience that when dealing with such sensitive matters we must at all times remember we are dealing with the safety, security and well-being of everyone who lives here.
We will tread carefully and only proceed when the community has the confidence to make progress. But at the same time we recognise that we have a responsibility to exert ourselves in order to identify safe structures which can create the conditions where this confidence will exist. [emphasis added]
That’s a neat piece of political alchemy. Roughly translated, it could mean: “Let’s, maybe, have policing and justice, in order to help build confidence where it is needed rather than wait till doomsday before that confidence arrives”. Their difficulty may lie in finding the political
‘fall guy’ party willing to take the strain for two parties at the top who have thus far been unable to agree on a way forward.
The detail is sparse and highly enigmatic, but the change in tone and import is unmistakable. Even if it has that same old ring of choreography so familiar from the old Peace Process? days.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty