Northern Ireland devolution plans on the brink

The devolution of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland are in a state of confusion. Contradictory remarks have come from both Whitehall and Stormont.

Plans for the devolution of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland are in a state of some confusion after contradictory remarks from both Whitehall and Stormont.

Speaking at to an audience at Harvard University’s School of Government, Northern Ireland Secretary, Shaun Woodward concluded that, “We stand now on the edge of completing devolution.” He continued:

“I know that sometimes the rhetoric can be perplexing but I urge everyone to listen carefully both to what is said and what is not said.”

Woodward’s remarks came after the Northern Ireland Assembly passed legislation which would enable a new Department for Justice to be established once agreement is reached between the parties. However, Sinn Fein, Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuiness has warned in an interview with the BBC’s Newsline that the impasse on devolving justice powers could not go on, setting Christmas as a deadline for agreement, followed by action in the New Year.

Left Foot Forward has previously reported on the impasse, which has seen the DUP reluctant to accept the devolution of policing and justice until such a move had the support and confidence of all communities in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein however have previously accused the DUP First Minister of dragging his feet to appease hard-line unionists.

Speaking at the weekend, Sinn Fein Chairman, Declan Kearney, made a withering attack on the DUP, concluding:

“In recent weeks all the evidence indicates the DUP have no intention to support the transfer of policing and justice powers.

“Their continued intransigence is a serious political mistake. It is a train wreck political strategy and political consequences will be inevitable.

“All of this demonstrates that the impasse over policing and justice is about something deeper than a transfer of powers. It’s about whether political unionism is prepared to co-exist with republicans in equality and partnership.”

The comments led to an angry response from DUP First Minister, Peter Robinson, who the Newsletter quotes as saying:

“Even a cursory inspection will show that the only party threatening to wreck the political process is Sinn Fein. The DUP is not seeking to walk away from either the Assembly or Executive. I made the DUP position clear and comprehensible at my party conference.

“Nobody listening to what I said would be in any doubt about our commitment to making devolution work and making progress on policing and justice. As they appear incapable of understanding any message normal folk can easily digest, let me give it to them in liquidised form. The DUP supports devolution without equivocation.

“Sinn Fein have now told us that the process is in ‘meltdown’; it is in ‘freefall’ and now they say unless their demands are met there will be ‘political consequences’.

“Sinn Fein is creating the very instability that many people believe is an obstacle to devolving more powers.”

As a result of the harsh words being traded between the DUP and Sinn Fein, the Financial Times has described a recent a meeting between UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Irish Taosieach, Brian Cowen as “crisis talks”. It continued by reporting on concerns in both Governments about a possible collapse of the devolved institutions. In October, Gordon Brown wrote to MLAs, outlining a proposed funding package to secure the devolution of policing and justice.

Whatever one’s views, Northern Ireland and its devolved bodies stand at a critical point in their development and future.

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10 Responses to “Northern Ireland devolution plans on the brink”

  1. Liz McShane

    The likelihood of a Tory government fills me with a lot of fear and apprehension vis a vis consolidating all the good work that has been done to date to deliver and build on The Good Friday Agreement.

  2. SSP Campsie

    RT @leftfootfwd Northern Ireland devolution plans on the brink

  3. Anon E Mouse

    Liz – You need to look at the history of this. John Major, an ELECTED UK Prime Minister started this process – not the Labour Party.

    Well done Tony Blair though and Mo Mowlam RIP – God bless you

  4. Liz McShane

    Anon – unfortunately I know the history of it all too well as I come from that part of the world. Granted John Major started the process along with Albert Reynolds & John Hume….although unofficial conversations had been started years before that led by some Labour MPs.

    Do you remember John Major’s last days in power being hamstrung by the votes of the UUP? That was a disgrace and still firmly etched in many people’s memories.

    Tony Blair (for all your dislike of him and I am not his No 1 fan either) did put 100% effort into it along with Mo Mowlam ((who was the real star for me). If you talk to Irish politicians and diplomats they will all say this that this Labour’ government’s efforts were relentless and shone when others would have given up.

  5. The week outside Westminster | Left Foot Forward

    […] Ireland Secretary, Shaun Woodward’s up-beat assessment of progress toward the completion of devolving policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland. […]

  6. Anon E Mouse

    Liz – I’m half Irish myself and ex-armed forces and I also know the situation – all I’m trying to say is that no government of whatever colour has a monopoly on wanting peace in Northern Ireland. To suggest otherwise is dishonest, delusional and silly.

    If I may be slightly critical of some of the contributors to this blog they tend to be too tribal and it will backfire.

    It’s the reason Blair, who I liked and voted for, made the Labour Party electable – it’s the reason Brown, who I don’t like and won’t vote for, has made the Labour Party unelectable.

    The point I make is that while the current electoral system exists in our country, the swings between the parties are balanced by around 400,000 voters (I got that figure from Shamik Das elsewhere on this blog) and the approach by Labour (in)Activists is frankly childish.

    The “Liar, Liar pants on Fire” types of debates that Labour indulge in look stupid and the public are really turned off by them.

    Look at the topic on the blog about Spain being in the G20 – that tells you everything you need to know. Spain isn’t and never was in the G20 – F*”king grow up you lot and stop trying to claim black is white – you just look stupid.

    Labour are going to go into the election banging on about Inheritance Tax (which affects so few of the population they don’t care) and peoples backgrounds like the Tory Toffs thing. Leaving aside the sheer hypocrisy of that position, people don’t care.

    Look at Boris Johnson, and the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. That should tell Labour how much people care about class and toffs but they deny the truth and it will cost the election.

    Peoples backgrounds are the same as the colour of peoples skins – they are born like that and as such should not be judged on them.

    I’m a working class northerner and sound like it but I wouldn’t comment on Steven Fry’s accent because apart from being rude it’s just not important.

    What is important is the affect governments have on peoples lives – ask one of the unemployed how they feel about inheritance tax and most won’t even know what it is or care and who can blame them.

    If Labour don’t get a grip on how real people actually feel in this country they will be out of office for years. As useless as David Cameron is, show me someone who says Gordon Brown is more electable or more like them (god help them) and I’ll show you a lying fool. The clock is ticking guys….

  7. Ed Jacobs

    Thank you for the postings. Couple of issues – I don’t think its possible or sensible to suggest that one party or another is more committed to peace. I think Major did a good job of preparing for the deal that Blair finally managed to reach between the parties. And David Cameron has made clear that if elected he will abide by any decisions reached on Justice and Policing. We wish all sides well in the pursuit of a peaceful solution that does not lead to another “crisis”.

    On the other issue – the purpose of this blog is to promote debate on policy and ideas. So, perhaps I could start one off here. What more can be done to attract furtehr investment into Northern Ireland?

  8. Liz McShane

    I wasn’t trying to say that one party has a monopoly on peace but there is a definite track record – especially with the Tories – that when backs are up against the wall they lose sight of the big picture eg like they did in the mid-late 90s with the UUP and the big prize of peace got temporarily overlooked and opportunistic party political pressures (eg UUP votes) took precedence.

  9. Anon E Mouse

    Liz – You’re being naive. Remember after John Major took over from Maggie Thatcher as Prime Minister her went to the country and won the next election.

    Often people say we have party politics in the UK and that Brown was fairly crowned but remember people, myself included, voted Blair to serve a “full third term”.

    Also Major was elected by his party unlike Brown and so had a small majority and had to work with other parties. He had a responsibility to govern as best he could – he therefore had no choice but to involve the UUP.

    Also I talk to people regularly in Northern Ireland, both catholics and prots and I am assured “peace” is a relative word.

    Labour do not have a monopoly on this and although they are certainly warlike as a party, which has cost thousands of lives overseas, I believe that most people, much as they detest Gordon brown, do not believe he is against the peace process.

  10. Liz McShane

    Anon – don’t think I am being naive at all.

    I just remember the disappointment and feeling back home that he had squandered/let drift an important opportunity when John Major had to rely on the UUP votes as he was coming under pressure and it was just a matter of numbers/votes that’s all.

    There is also the concern from some quarters that David Cameron & the Tories won’t make a lot of effort to engage with certain key members/parties within Stormont. That’s the feeling but I hope I am proved wrong.

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