“I share his analysis of the St. Andrews agreement.”

Fair Deal’s quote aside, there was another more significant exchange on the devolution of policing and justice powers during Northern Ireland Questions today with NI Secretary of State Shaun Woodward talking “about trust and working in the spirit of St Andrews” [That’s really helped by blocking Executive meetings – Ed] Indeed. From Hansard

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): Will the Secretary of State add his voice to those saying that it is deeply unacceptable for Sinn Fein alone to block meetings of the Executive when all the other parties want those meetings to happen and the people of Northern Ireland want decisions made for the good of everybody—in the interests not only of Unionists or nationalists but of the people of Northern Ireland—and that the blame for there being no such meetings clearly lies with Sinn Fein? Does he also agree that it is wrong to continue to assert that Unionism signed up to any kind of date for the devolution of policing and justice, which would involve people who were murdering the police a short time ago being involved in running the police? As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) pointed out, this matter was not agreed at St. Andrews, and Sinn Fein received no such commitment from Unionists.

Mr. Woodward: It goes without saying that it is essential that government is seen to be stable and functioning in Northern Ireland. The Executive are a tool of the institutions. It is essential to resolve the problems that have arisen, which have resulted in some decisions on the Executive agenda not being agreed, thereby preventing meetings from taking place. The hon. Gentleman will know that one of the critical issues for Sinn Fein rests on agreement about producing a date on which policing and justice will be transferred. I share his analysis of the St. Andrews agreement. However, within that agreement between the British and Irish Governments, it was perfectly clear that it was the view of both that it would be possible, within a timetable of 12 months, to complete that transfer, given confidence in the community. I remind him that we have to be very careful about allowing confidence building to be an excuse for indefinitely delaying the transfer. I know that the leader of his party is working extremely hard in expressing his view that it is an ideal, as well as a manifesto commitment, that his party completes it. However, this is about trust and working in the spirit of St. Andrews, and it remains the case that, if the politicians so choose, a way can be found to resolve the matter and for the Executive to meet. [added emphasis]

Actually, Shaun, the line was – “It is our view that implementation of the 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″ [added emphasis]. But you’re right about that critical issue..And the question from Mark Durkan which Nigel Dodds referred to

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Will the Secretary of State help things by injecting a truth check with Sinn Fein that this issue was not nailed down in the St. Andrews agreement in the way that it claims? Will he further help things with a reality check to the Democratic Unionist party that devolution of justice and policing is an imperative, as a legislative assembly is not worthy of the name if it does not take responsibility for criminal law? We can achieve the best meshing of plans, budgets and policies across related services with the devolution of justice and policing. The best way for all parties to unite to confound the dangerous agenda of republican dissidents lies in securing devolution sooner rather than later.

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman makes a set of extremely telling remarks about the state of the relationships between individuals in the Assembly and the Executive. It is a matter of trust, perhaps more than truth, being established in order to go forward. However, I share his view that a substantial risk to stability in Northern Ireland is caused by the new threat of dissident groups such as the Real IRA and Continuity IRA—not PIRA as in the past—which are exploiting the political vacuum that risks being opened up by a perception that politics is failing in Northern Ireland. It is our view, and I hope that of the House, that what has been demonstrated in Northern Ireland is that politics can triumph over violence and bring peace and prosperity. It is essential that we continue to build that trust so that those who might turn to crime are prevented from doing so.

Continuing on from Nigel Dodds question

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): In endorsing almost everything that the Secretary of State has said, may I ask him to talk immediately to those who have chosen not to take the seats that they could take in this House, and to tell them that if they remove their block on the Executive they are more likely to achieve what everybody wants than if they maintain it?

Mr. Woodward: I constantly have discussions with the leaders of all the political parties, with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and indeed with those politicians who currently take the view that it is not possible to agree an agenda for the Executive to meet. The hon. Gentleman makes a number of important observations. We have expressed to Sinn Fein our belief that the Executive should meet. I would like to put on record our thanks to the special envoy of the United States, who yesterday met the leaders of all the political parties to discuss with them the issues that are producing a deadlock in the Executive. I thank the special envoy and the President of the United States for their continued involvement in wishing to see the politicians in Northern Ireland complete devolution and ensure that government is stable.

As I mentioned previously

it’s never been just about those “dreary steeples”..

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