Will Crawley chaired the West Belfast Talks Back meeting last night, noted by Fair Deal, and on his blog he notes that, at the meeting, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness claimed credit for the details announced in the agreement between his party and the DUP on the shape of any devolved ministry for policing and justice.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness revealed that it was he who proposed to the DUP that both parties should not nominate a justice minister, and that the post should be filled by the Assembly on a cross-community basis. He also explained that it was his idea that there should be one combined policing and justice portfolio, rather than two new departments.
Of course, the Assembly and Executive Review Committee had already recommended that there should be one department, but they couldn’t agree on the number of ministers involved. Thankfully we have the details of the parties’ positions at that time from the Minutes of Proceedings of that report. [6 November 2007]
Sinn Féin favoured the model of two Ministers acting equally and jointly, whereas the SDLP stated that a single Minister is the most appropriate model. However, recognising that this may not be a realistic option, the SDLPs second preference is for two Ministers acting equally and jointly, separate from OFMdFM. The UUP support the model of a single Minister, but only in circumstances where there is full community confidence. This is a view shared by the DUP.
And from the Minutes of Evidence [6 November 2007]
1109. The Chairperson: The Clerk has underlined the relevant section on page 5 of the speech.
1110. I ask members to remind the Committee of the preferred model of their party.
1111. Mr ODowd: As I declared at last weeks meeting, Sinn Féins preferred model is for a joint Ministry including two Ministers of equal status.
1112. The Chairperson: That is option 2. Alex, am I correct in stating that the SDLPs preferred model is for a single Minister?
1113. Mr Attwood: That option makes the most sense but, in our current political circumstances, that will not attract political or community confidence. Therefore, we may end up with the model of two Ministers, preferably of equal status because the junior Minister would be in an invidious position who would be separate from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.
1114. The Chairperson: Option 1 is the SDLPs preferred choice, but Mr Attwood believes that option 2 is more realistic.
1115. Mr McFarland: The UUP is of the view that policing and justice matters should not be devolved unless there were full public confidence in doing so as everyone has said. In the absence of full confidence, why should two Ministers, presumably with their own staff, be paid £76,000 each? Are we saying that policing and justice will be devolved without there being full public confidence? If that is the case, checks and balances will be required. The UUP is in favour of a single Minister, but those powers should not be devolved without full public confidence.
1116. The Chairperson: The DUPs preferred option remains the appointment of a single Minister. It is relevant to consider Alex Attwoods comment about how the Ministers will be appointed, considering the realities of life in Northern Ireland. If a cross-community vote were required in the Assembly, for instance, would that take care of Alexs concern that an individual would have to be capable of commanding cross-community support? Should that be decoupled from the dHondt system, at least for the first such appointment? Clerk, do we know what the current legislative position is, because some obvious grey areas were highlighted during last weeks discussion?
1117. The Committee Clerk: The legislative position is stated in the briefing paper, under Option 1: Single Minister. The sequence for the appointment process is stated therein. The Minister could be a member of any party. The consent of the nominating officer would be required. He or she would be jointly nominated by the First Minister and deputy First Minister, and that nomination would be approved by a 50:50:50 cross-community resolution. That would happen after the appointment of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister and before dHondt is run and it would count immediately for the purposes of dHondt. That is option 1.
1118. The Chairperson: Alex, how do you feel about that, in the context of your preference for a single Minister? Does that not ensure that that Minister is capable of commanding widespread support?
1119. Mr Attwood: I shall deal with the realpolitik of the matter. There is already a principle of shared leadership in Government. Although we have enough confidence to set up devolved institutions, there is still a sense that in order to guarantee those institutions shared leadership is needed. Alan made the point that, if we were in a position to devolve policing and justice matters, that suggests, per se, that there would be enough confidence in a single Minister. That is not necessarily the case. On the contrary, one could ask why we did not establish a single Minister in leadership at the head of the Government, if there was sufficient confidence to establish devolution as we did in May.
Mr Adams has claimed the DUP agreed as part of the St Andrews Agreement to the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly by May of this year.
However, the DUP leader said Mr Adams’ assertions were wholly inaccurate.
The East Belfast MP described the remarks as “bizarre and difficult to understand”.