“Our position is crystal clear..”

The problem for the deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, in trying to come up with an explanation of the context in which he signed the letter to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, on the mechanism for chosing any devolved Justice Minister, is that it doesn’t change the detail of what he actually signed up to..Here’s Martin McGuinness explanation..

Mr McGuinness said claims by the DUP that the arrangement would be permanent was: “Absolutely wrong. Totally untrue.”

Mr McGuinness said: “I listened with amusement to what Peter (Robinson) said yesterday.

“Our position is crystal clear. The DUP are under no illusions whatsoever about where Sinn Féin is coming from on this issue.

“Our position is crystal clear and we have made it crystal clear during the course of these discussions that we are involved in.

“Now those discussions will continue and from our perspective it will continue for the purposes of achieving a successful outcome.”

The Deputy First Minister added: “The reality is that the particular context within which that phrase was used was explained in very categoric terms to Peter Robinson and to his entire negotiating team.

“They are under no illusions whatsoever about where Sinn Fein is coming from.”

And what he actually signed up to again.

“We believe that your consideration should be based on a single department in which policing and justice powers would reside with a single Minister elected at all times from the Assembly in a way which would ensure cross-community support.”

And a reminder of the argument at the Review Committee

This sentence led to all the talk about Alliance taking the justice job. Since then, the SDLP have been hammering away at the line that this boils down to “no nationalist need apply”. Today Alex Attwood scored a hit when he raised the matter in the committee,and Sinn Fein’s Alec Maskey responded by saying that “at all times” did not mean the cross community vote should be permanent. Later Raymond McCartney argued that the sentence meant a future Justice Minister should “at all times” be elected “from the Assembly”, rather than “at all times” by “cross community support”.

We are in “eats, shoots and leaves” territory here. But the significance is that if the July agreement on a future Justice ministry falls apart, we are back to minus square one.