Final pieces of the Northern Ireland jigsaw

Shaun Woodward keeps saying that the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly – the subject of talks in Downing Street today – is "the final part of the jigsaw".

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State is factually wrong.

Eleven years on from the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement, the people of Northern Ireland are still waiting for the government to deliver a Bill of Rights. That too is one of the final parts of the jigsaw, alongside a meaningful process for dealing with the past and a strategy for substantially and structurally improving community relations. The devolution of justice and policing is one of the final pieces of the jigsaw, but the government should not limit the scope of its ambitions to just this single element of delivery.

Yet, as things stand, the Secretary of State has not even delivered the public consultation based on the Bill of Rights advice (summary here) handed over to the Northern Ireland Office some eleven months ago.

There’s no good reason for it to have taken so long – apart from the fact that the Secretary of State may have taken his eye off the ball. I note that Arlene Foster, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment in the Northern Ireland Executive has taken less than a week to put out to public consultation the advice from the Independent Review of Economic Policy.

Given the high levels of support from the public, if not from all politicians, for a strong Bill of Rights (80%+ according to the latest independent research), it is to the ongoing shame of the government that they have still not officially asked people here what they think.

Could it be that the Secretary of State fears that the public don’t share his own apparently sceptical views and wants to put off the consultation for as long as possible in case he gets answers he doesn’t want to hear?

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