20 April 2006

Policing devolution bid 'futile' without agreement


20/04/2006 - 14:43:43

Ministers were today warned that legislating for the devolution of policing and justice in the North was futile without prior agreement between the parties.

The SDLP’s Mark Durkan said it made more sense for parties to reach a consensus and for the British government then to legislate on “known outcomes”.

He was referring to a raft of provisions for devolved justice and policing in the the wide-ranging Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

During committee stage debate, the Foyle MP said the measures fell “somewhere between a figment and a fig leaf” and were mere “furniture arrangement” rather than a substantial move towards devolving the functions.

He told MPs: “We have already some of the folly and indeed the futility of legislating for all sorts of potential options, only for them to turn out not to be needed and maybe even to subsequently be withdrawn or overturned by other legislation.”

He added: “We are being asked to deal with parts of this bill which are essentially somewhere between a figment and a fig leaf.

“All these sections are in this bill to create a pretence that this bill is actually securing as a fact the devolution of justice and policing so that Sinn Féin can then pretend there has been some significant new gain, some significant new development, so that they can then modify their position on policing and their language on policing.”

Mr Durkan continued: “The fact is the power to devolve justice and policing already exists. It’s there in the 1998 act. This is only giving us options in terms of the furniture arrangement for the devolution of justice and policing. It does not take us substantively onto the devolution of justice and policing.”

He said some of the proposals could delay delivery of the devolution of justice and policing because mechanisms in the bill would effectively give Sinn Féin “a multiple lock on any prospect of the transfer of justice and policing and also give them locks on who can be appointed to that post”.

The bill also includes provisions on electoral registration and political donations.

Other measures include an extension to the amnesty period for arms decommissioning and changes in the energy sector.

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