“talk of the devolution of Justice now is premature..”

The Alliance Party leader David Ford’s speech at his party’s conference touched on the devolution of policing and justice powers and the currently deadlocked Executive. Adds iol report here.

That is why talk of the devolution of Justice now is premature. Alliance always said that we needed to see a stable Executive working well for a period before Justice could be devolved. I remember suggesting that that time period could be expressed as ‘two marching seasons’.

Well, two marching seasons have come and gone since the current Executive took power last year. We have seen a much more peaceful atmosphere on the streets but instability in the Executive. The condition is now reserved: the people need to see stability in the Executive before there could be devolution of Justice to deal with issues on the streets.

And he listed some areas of concern for his party

There are also real issues to be addressed about policing and justice. The last issue is who the Minister might be in some future hypothetical circumstances. We will use any influence we have to deal with the real issues that matter. They include all the following points:

The current budget for justice is inadequate to meet the needs of a society in transition, with massive investment needed to improve buildings and IT equipment alone. Yet it is only guaranteed for a couple of years under the current spending round. Devolution of power just as the Treasury squeezes spending would be disastrous.

The current manpower of the Police Service, at 7,500 officers, would be cut to 6,028 in two years under Treasury projections. If we are going to make real progress on removing physical barriers and reducing psychological barriers, we need to be investing in community policing.

My vision of a police officer is not of a man in riot gear waving a truncheon beside an armoured Landrover. My vision is of a well-educated man or woman meeting the local community while out on the beat and working with other agencies to solve problems and meet local needs. It needs investment, but it pays dividends in the long-term.

When people complain about the Courts and the criminal justice system, it is generally to complain about delays and poor treatment of the victims of crime. That requires investment and leadership to build on some recent pioneering work in a few areas.

When I meet people on the streets of South Antrim, they don’t regard devolution of justice as the number one issue. The few who do mention it tend to suggest that they would trust Alliance to do the job fairly. That trust is something hard-earned and we are not going to throw it away.

We will play a constructive part in any way we can. But we will not be used to apply a sticking plaster over a serious fault line within the Executive. There must be fundamental reforms. I care too deeply about the future of this society to prop up a failing sectarian and sectional Executive.