Policing and Justice transfer - time to move ahead (October 2009)
Just over a week ago the Sinn Féin Officer Board concluded discussions in Dublin on the issue of the transfer of Policing and Justice powers to the Assembly.
Our Party Officer Board called the meeting after negotiations on the financial package for transferring Policing and Justice powers concluded in Downing Street.
Our approach to these negotiations were twofold. On one hand to secure an adequate financial package for a quality frontline, civic policing service and a fair and effective justice system; and, on the other, ensuring that existing budgets for health, education and the other departments would not be affected by transfer.
On the back of these negotiations, we received from the British government, in writing, the details of the financial package being proposed. My Party colleague, Martin McGuinness, recommended to the Officer Board that we proceed on the basis of this financial package. This recommendation was accepted.
So, for us our twofold objectives of ensuring and adequate financial package to allow the transfer to proceed, and to ensure that this was not done to the detriment of any other existing Assembly budgets, was achieved.
For Sinn Féin this negotiation was not about the principal of transferring powers. It was solely about trying to ensure that an adequate financial package for Policing and Justice in the North would be in place when transfer happens.
However, it does not seem that others had the same agenda in these negotiations. There is clearly significant opposition to transfer within sections of the DUP. This is based solely on those within that party who hark back to the past - those who have yet to reconcile themselves with sharing power with nationalists and republicans on the basis of equality within the all-Ireland political architecture of the Good Friday Agreement.
The transfer of Policing and Justice powers was agreed at St. Andrews. Both governments committed that it would happen by May 2008. In reality, they are already in default. The DUP leader Peter Robinson subsequently agreed a process in November that would lead to the transfer of these powers. Peter Robinson must now step forward and honour the commitments he has entered into.
The DUP leader has for some time put the issue of finance up as the reason for delay. That issue is now resolved and the time for DUP excuses is over. It is now time to move ahead.
Attempts to link other issues such as parades to the transfer of powers are merely attempts to slow this process, and if those who are opposed to the transfer of powers attempt to go down this road then their agenda will be quickly exposed and the people here who wish to see a quality frontline, civic policing service and a fair and effective justice system will not forgive them for it.
The transfer of powers on Policing and Justice is not simply a Sinn Féin demand. It is a sensible and necessary part of constructing a democratically accountable civic policing service. The type of policing service that people tell me day and daily that they want to see.
The process of transferring Policing and Justice powers must now proceed swiftly. The people of South Belfast deserve no less.