16 November 2006

Pledge to fully endorse police


(William Graham, Irish News)

Ministers in a future Stormont executive, including Sinn Féin, will have to take a ministerial pledge fully endorsing the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the criminal justice system.

The wording of such a pledge is to be published in legislation tomorrow (Thursday).

Political sources have told The Irish News that the pledge will be very similar to paragraph six of the St Andrews agreement.

This unambiguous pledge would involve future Sinn Féin ministers having to promise to actively encourage everyone in the community to co-operate fully with the PSNI in tackling crime in all areas and actively supporting all the policing and criminal justice institutions, including the Policing Board.

The British and Irish governments are going to be strict on this issue of support for upholding the rule of law, although it should be pointed out that negotiations on this matter are at a very sensitive stage.

Sinn Féin is engaged in a difficult internal debate on the policing issue and have yet to organise an ard chomhairle meeting to set the date for a special ard fheis where republicans would decide whether to sign up to the new police arrangements in the north.

At this stage, if the DUP was to nominate Ian Paisley as first minister and Sinn Féin to nominate Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister, it is unclear whether they would have to take this pledge on November 24.

Even though the plan is to have these nominations in place by November 24 the designated ministers would not take up their duties until the executive is hoped to be restored on March 26.

The exact choreography on November 24 is also still to be worked out although it is understood that the legislation may leave some of the detail to the implementation of standing orders which could be changed or altered by Secretary of State Peter Hain at the last minute.

The legislation will contain within it a power or a duty to wind things up on March 26 or before then if there is not restoration of the political institutions. This is seen as a way of keeping pressure on the political parties throughout the St Andrews timetable to move forward.

In addition the legislation is understood to provide for a fresh Assembly election next year instead of a referendum.

There was draft legislation published a week before the St Andrews negotiations and it is believed that as far as the SDLP are concerned this upcoming new legislation on Thursday will include a number of improvements in terms of good government.

The big difference for the SDLP will be that an exclusion from office clause has been dropped.

But on some issues the SDLP believe the legislation could be better and sources point out that any changes agreed under St Andrews should be repealed automatically if the DUP does not agree to restoration of devolution. This would be what is called a sunset clause which would deny the DUP getting anything without signing up to fully restored powersharing government.

There will be a strengthening of the north south agenda in the legislation – in that it will stop any refusal by the unionists to nominate ministers to attend ministerial council meetings.

Concerns remain among nationalists that the legislation will not deal adequately with the question of MI5 and its future role in Northern Ireland.

November 16, 2006

This article appeared first in the November 15, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

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