Latest from Northern Ireland

The latest news and developments from Northern Ireland.

This weekend, amidst tough and sensitive negotiations over the devolution of police and justice powers to Stormont, Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson has told the Democratic Unionist Party that:

“I cannot guarantee the future of the Assembly but I can guarantee that it will not be the DUP that will walk away. I can also guarantee that in whatever circumstances we find ourselves the DUP will act in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland.”

Sinn Fein have made clear their desire to see powers transferred as soon as possible. The DUP leader, however, has pledged that the DUP will not be rushed into making a decision, preferring to wait until there is widespread support across all sections of Northern Ireland society for the transfer of powers.

The latest bone of contention relates to the role of police reservists. In a controversial decision, the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Matt Baggott, has concluded that it is now possible to disband the police reservist force.

Defending his decision, he said:

“The decision I made with unanimous support of my chief officer colleagues has been the result of a very thorough review of security and our current needs. I made this decision impartially, independently with my accountability as Chief Constable to the Policing Board.”

As is now customary on issues of security, the decision led to sharp comments by both unionists and Republicans. DUP MLA for Newry and Armagh, William Irwin, said:

“It’s a strange decision to reduce the police force at a time when the Independent Monitoring Commission describes the dissidents’ threat as being at an all-time high.

“One would have thought that more police officers, not fewer, would be required at a time like this. The full-time reservists have a comprehensive bank of experience and knowledge that Northern Ireland can scarcely afford to lose, particularly in tackling terrorism.”

However, Alex Maskey, who sits as one of Sinn Fein’s representatives on the Northern Ireland Policing Board, has warned the DUP not to politicise a decision that should be an operational one for the police service alone.

Whilst common ground is proving somewhat difficult to find to say the least, the parties are united in their understanding of the risks now faced. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness has warned of “deep trouble” if the devolution of policing and justice powers is not completed by Christmas. Similarly, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has concluded that phasing out the reservist force is a potential deal breaker.

As if to underline the fragile political and security situation across Northern Ireland, this weekend saw dissident republicans leave a 400lb bomb outside the headquarters of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, and three people were arrested after police traded gunfire with them in County Fermanagh.

Commenting on the developments, Northern Ireland Minister Paul Goggins said:

“Very clearly these people are trying to undermine the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland in recent years. When attacks like these happen it brings people together with the strong message that these dissidents will not succeed. They are a small minority, they are reckless and criminally intent.”

All this comes as reports suggest that the Governments in London and Dublin are concerned that what they see as Robinson’s stalling on the issue could lead to the Assembly collapsing.

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