The News Letter notes the statement by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland [pdf file] Shaun Woodward, MP, in the House of Commons yesterday on the new Process™ – “..the events of this week mark the maturing of democracy in Northern Ireland”. But, in the Irish Times, Frank Millar spotted the caveat,
Strangford MP Iris Robinson asked Mr Woodward if he would agree that Northern Ireland’s “transition to democracy” would only be complete “when government moves from a mandatory to a voluntary coalition”. Mr Woodward said he was “tempted to say we should walk before we can run”.
The full question and answer quoted
Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): Everyone welcomes the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland, but does the Secretary of State agree with me that the real transition to full democratic progress will come only when the Assembly coalition moves from being a mandatory one to being a voluntary one, with parties having the same objectives?
Mr. Woodward: I am tempted to say that we should learn to walk before we run, but if the hon. Ladys ambition is to reach that destination sooner rather than later, and if she believes that that will succeed, we really have made terrific progress in Northern Ireland.
And there was also a note of caution expressed in one question and answer yesterday.
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State on the astute way in which he supported the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in reaching this important agreementa relief to me, as I promised to be the last direct rule Secretary of State. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the process will take time? It was never envisaged that there would be a big bang devolution of policing and justice, but that it would be phased. That will now occur speedily, and relatively soon there will be progress towards that objective.
Mr. Woodward: Once more, I take an opportunity to place on record not only our thanks, but, I think, the thanks of all politicians in Northern Ireland for the work of my right hon. Friend. He helped to steer the parties to the St. Andrews agreement, which allowed the two Governments to provide and reach a framework within which the institutions could be restored. On the basis of that agreement, it was possible yesterday to produce the historic agreement by the First and Deputy First Ministers that will allow devolution to be completed. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise, however, the need for all of us to continue to support the Government in Northern Ireland in whatever way we can. Even if there are setbacks in the months to come, we remain resolved, and the Prime Minister remains resolved, to provide every help we can to ensure the completion of devolution. [added emphasis]
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I join the Secretary of State in welcoming the positive turn of events this week that will see the Executive meet again after 22 weeks. Does he agree that it was no active leadership that prevented the Executive from meeting during that time of pain for the economy, public services and the voluntary sector, and is he confident that there will be no slippage or slipperiness in the process outlined by the First and Deputy First Ministers and that a time scale is envisaged if not actually expressed?
Mr. Woodward: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution to enabling the First and Deputy First Ministers to reach agreement yesterday on finding a way forward on the devolution of policing and justice. In relation to timetables and dates, I caution him and other hon. Members that the agreement reached yesterday by the First and Deputy First Ministers was carefully put together to recognise the respective positions of both parties and to recognise that the way to deal with that was to put in place a process that would build community confidence. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the words used yesterday by both the First Minister and the Deputy First Ministerthey both want devolution without undue delay. [added emphasis]
As I suggested, back to St Andrews..