Sinn Féin’s u-turn over their previously demanded “safeguards” in any devolved justice ministry, however Martin McGuinness cared to portray it, might have bought them the appearance of movement.. however briefly.. But Gerry Adams is still talking about
failure of the “indigenous” deal threatening to take the ball away. And he’s still pointing, again, to ‘promises’ at St Andrews. Not that he can point directly at such a promise on policing and justice.. as the DUP’s Peter Robinson has re-stated. The problem for the Sinn Féin leadership is that those promises were made elsewhere by them, and to a particular audience – as Maurice Hayes identified in March.
Sinn Fein needs these powers to be devolved, not only because they represent the last piece of the Patten jigsaw, but because it was a main element in the bill of sale on which they persuaded republicans to buy into support for policing.
For Patten, it was a defining function of government, and a manifest of the commitment of parties to defend the institutions and the common good, that they should exercise these powers. For Sinn Fein and republicans, it is symbolically important that these powers should be exercised by local politicians responsible to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Without that, the Sinn Fein leadership would not have got agreement, and failure to deliver will seriously damage their credibility.