P&J devolution: dates and confidence

The Hillsbourough agreement foresees the cross community vote on the devolution of policing and justice as occurring on the 9th of March with power to be devolved on 12th of April. Clearly this is colossally before Lord Morrow’s timetable of not in the life time of this assembly and indeed just as premature for Gregory Campbell’s six months or six years. Once when the DUP were busy telling everyone that they would not be rushed or bounced into devolving P&J and that the Hillsborough Agreement put them under no obligation, they explained that devolution would only occur when there was sufficient community confidence.

One of the tests of community confidence was to be a resolution of the parading issue. The deadline for the vote on devolution is now less than two weeks away and yet we have seen no sign of the report of the parades working group which apparently reported to McGuinness and Robinson three days ago. The drafting of the bill to implement these agreed outcomes has supposedly already started. The draft bill is to be published in late March / early April. This is clearly after the vote on P&J and possibly even after it has been devolved. Therefore it seems most unlikely that any supposed victory for unionists over parading will be one of the things to ensure adequate community confidence.

In addition although immediately after the Hillsborough Agreement there were some meetings between the DUP and the loyal orders, there has been little evidence of any appetite by the DUP genuinely to assess community confidence. The strategy on tackling sectarianism has not been released either; instead there have been secret meetings, talk of the clever device and silence on the substance of the agreements. All this is somewhat shaky ground on which to build community confidence let alone assess it. Unless of course community confidence does not matter any more or unless the clever device really is that clever.