Brown largesse not be enough for the transfer of J&P

If Ed Curran is right, stuffing the Executive’s faces with gold will not be enough. In an important article that goes against the grain of all the external pressure to devolve justice and policing, the former Belfast Telegraph editor defends Peter Robinson’s tardiness, newly expressed in an interview with Noel McAdam, recorded after the Brown financial package was offered. Ed now seems to be writing off the Executive as a lame duck, with its “ mind numbing inertia,” and yet he appears to support even more inertia with his counsel for further delay. (Peter, incidentally, defies William Hague’s pledge to get rid of double jobbing but then, he has a full Parliament’s grace before a Conservative government could enact it).

Ed writes:

The Executive is a lame duck administration because its coalition format means decisiveness is a dirty word. Peter Robinson recognised this in his recent comments calling for a weighted majority voting system at Stormont to replace the current mind-numbing inertia.

To Ed’s the case for more patience, I make four points. He says:

“.. the transfer of policing and justice to Northern Ireland from Westminster represents a massive dismantlement of the Great Britain and Northern Ireland link. ”

Yes, it is a significant move, but this is an overstatement.

1. Devolved J&P would operate in a framework of UK law which is nigh impossible to dismantle, much of which is reserved to Westminster. It operates under a UK Supreme Court in which NI is represented. The appointments of Lord Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal are signed off by the Prime Minster (although whether after consultation or not, isn’t clear). Previous versions to have signing off by FMDFM have been removed. .

2.Much of the actual power is either exercised operationally independently – policing by a Policing Board which we’re familiar with; and judicial appointments by an independent board, with provisions for appeals to an ombudsman.

3. Most of these powers were long held in pre-devolution Scotland which has always had a separate legal system. You can argue whether that strengthens or weakens the Union either way.

4 Patience perhaps, Ed, but for how long? What has to change? A full generation of SF/IRA to fade away as N Dodds once suggested? And what about the benefits of binding in nationalists to an accountable J&P system to change the background in which terrorism can still flourish? Why is the DUP not making the case for this to its electorate – and more widely?

Ed adds

I think someone in the media could do an enormous service if they were to conduct a simple opinion poll on this issue and confirm how people – particularly in the unionist community – feel. Failing that, I would hope the DUP are doing their own sampling.

Clearly the DUP are doing their own sampling as Peter makes clear, but that’s hardly a substitute for an open poll. Judging from the Robinson interview, the party will remain in purdah for some time. Why not a poll commissioned by Ed’s own organ?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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