Policing and Justice: Brown to renege on the St Andrews Agreement?

I first heard the word optics in the run up to the Belfast Agreement. It means stuff that/s not real but looks good to the punters. Blair was a past master at it. Putting a banner up above the smiling faces at St Andrews which read “St Andrews Agreement” was sheer genius. In what came next he managed to ‘rough’ Sinn Fein over the end line.

The fig leaf of the provisional timetable was spun as a hard deadline by Sinn Fein to the mass media, and its own members. The binding terms of its agreement with its own 2007 Ard Fheis meant it has been on effective strike ever since May last year. Now, we more optics from the British in which they now say confidence cannot be had until devolution is complete, and not as states. And that big wad of cash may be taken off the table if the deal is not done in months:

“The financial package will only be available if devolution is completed in the coming months. Maintaining this progress and the early completion of devolution are important to sustaining public confidence across the whole community and to further enhancing Northern Ireland’s international reputation.”

In other words, it’s the old switcheroo from the St Andrews Agreement itself from Brown, which clearly states community confidence is a precondition, and not the other way around:

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.

This ‘sham fight’ just got a wee bit more interesting… Of course, all things are possible (even the worse ones) if there is sufficient political will to make them happen… We await to see if Mr Brown’s got the political nerve to rip up his own government’s binding agreement…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Unionists with or without St Andrews always have had the right to say ‘NO’. The real question is whether it is in our interest to say ‘NO’ to the transfer of police powers in the face of international opinion and with the attendant risk of instability that goes with that choice.

    Having now secured an excellent financial package the time is now surely right to say ‘Yes’.

  • Aw, c’mon!

    You really have to work it to blame this one on Brown or Westminster. This is a home-made half-baking.

    The harsh truth (as repeatedly made implicit and explicit here and elsewhere) is that the Assembly and its two main political parties are small-minded, bureaucratic, bloody-minded and provincial. The system as presently composed is both constipated and incontinent.

    All one can hope for is the great NI public to wake up and make sure that next time round we actually find a few decent women and men who have vision that extends beyond their own navels.

  • Only Asking

    Anyone who has listened to Robinson speak on this knows that he is on firm ground. He is confident and sure of his footing and this is why. The shinners sold a deal to their supporters and now they may not be able to deliver. Well slap it up them. The dupers must have realised they were selling something they couldn’t deliver on and sat back and waited for this moment. It’s their moment, and SF can take the consequences of telling little white porkies to their base and electorate.

  • Pete Baker

    It’s a predictably vague statement by Brown and Cowen.

    After all, if the powers are not devolved all those costs remain the responsibility of the UK Treasury.

    So what’s the threat?

    A re-negotiation with a new government over costs which they have already accepted responsibility for?

  • aquifer

    Sinn Fein are not entitled to hard deadlines, ever.

    As for the DUP and their performance in office.

    We are entitled to elections, as often as it takes.

  • Ulick

    Sinn Féin have planned a series of briefings for their activists next week.

    Could the Punt’s bluff about to be called?

  • Paul

    SINN FEIN are pathatic they acting like little cry babies.Sinn fein have clearly told there electorate and membership a pack of porkies its sinn feins fault if they have over sold P and J.There are no deadlines its sinn fein which has plucked this deadline end of the year deadline threat to play the role of cry baby and the political wrecker it other words. I am going to destroy the assembly and put everybody else out of work if you dont give us sinn fein P and J by xmas how pathatic is that.A bunch of little sinn fein cry babies who cant get there way so they sinn fein try to bully and threatened everyone.If sinn fein want to walk away let them the assembly has got to be allowed then to carry on and let the voters see how pathatic they sinn fein are the voters can already see that anyway.

  • Mick Fealty


    It would make a change from all these uphill downhill manoeuvres.

  • What SF did or did not sell to its party regarding the STA may provide some amusement to Unionism but should be irrelevant in our strategic decision making. The electoral fall-out from the STA has been at DUP’s expensse and this is likely to continue to be case – if SF have oversold they have got away with it as their supporters now see international opinion lining up behind them. This may be unfair – but then thats the way life and politics often unfold.

    Unionism must be seen to be grapsing the opportunity to make Stormont more powerful or risk that all progress, such the transfer of police and justice, will be seen as a Nationalist gain rather than as a gain for both sections of the community.

  • Ulick

    It’s a bit wick one has to go back two pages on Slugger to find a P&J blog such is the Gerry Adams feeding frenzy. Anyway, SF are briefing their members that MMcG is most likely going to resign.