“falls a semantic mile short of a deadline..”

The DUP and Sinn Féin meet for talks, lead apparently by the First and deputy First Ministers.. Meanwhile in the Belfast Telegraph, SF MLA, Mitchel McLaughlin tells us that

In any event, the issue of whether the DUP agreed to the May 2008 deadline for the transfer of policing and justice powers, or indeed subscribed to the introduction of the Irish Language Act, is a red herring.

Which is partly correct. Leaving aside the Irish Language Act, which the UK government stated it would introduce – before devolving the power to do that to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Let’s focus on the real issue here, the devolution of policing and justice powers. After all, why aren’t there more concerns about the absence of the promised Bill of Rights? Mitchel McLaughlin goes on to claim

The real issue is that the DUP, by endorsing the conditions for the restoration of the Assembly, were explicitly accepting the outcome of both sets of political negotiations. The DUP cannot credibly claim that it did not accept the political principles and the legal requirements of both the GFA and St Andrews.

On policing and justice powers, the DUP have accepted the outcome of the political negotiations at St Andrews – the timing of the devolution of those powers is conditional, as I pointed out at the time. The real “real issue” is why, as Mitchel McLaughlin does again, have Sinn Féin continually lied about misrepresented what they actually negotiated at St Andrews? Even the DUP can see that. Eamonn McCann in the Belfast Telegraph spells it out, again.

It’s when you accept the police force that you’ve accepted the State. Herein lies the reason the Sinn Fein ardfheis which last year gave the go-ahead for acceptance of the PSNI added a condition: that control of policing be transferred from Westminster to Stormont — from British to Irish politicians, the Irish politicians including as a crucial element representatives of nationalism in the shape of Sinn Fein. To back the police without securing a share in control for nationalists would be to accept the authority of a State defined by Britishness, not a State which could be represented as being in transition from Britishness to Irishness.

This is what makes devolution of policing a more critical issue for Sinn Fein than for any other party. Which raises another question: why didn’t SF negotiators at St Andrews insist on the issue being tied down? Given its enormous importance for the party, why didn’t they insist on last May as a deadline rather than a target? Why didn’t they get it in writing?

The statement by the two governments which the party is now relying on — “It is our view that the implementation of the (St Andrews) agreement published today should be sufficient to build the community confidence necessary for the Assembly to request the devolution of criminal justice and policing from the British Government by May 2008” — falls a semantic mile short of a deadline.

One school of thought has it that the SF negotiators just had an off day at St Andrews. This hardly seems likely. But what, then? Could it be that they misread their own rank-and-file’s adherence to the ideology they’d fought the war on?

Possibly, Eamonn, possibly..

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