Progress of Sorts on the Devolution of Policing and Justice
In Westminster today the second reading of the Bill to Devolve Policing and Justice to Northern Ireland has received some staunch support from the Secretary of State Shaun Woodward. A BBC report on the proceedings indicates that Mr Woodward believes there is a consensus among the Northern Ireland Assembly and within Westminster to implement devolution in the Autumn.
In my previous blog, I described how the perceived consensus amongst the political parties is probably wishful thinking as real divisions on the subject remain. The SDLP continue to challenge the Bill ferociously and are demanding an amendment to the DUP/Sinn Fein compromise which will only permit a cross community choice for Minister of Justice. Most attribute their anger to the decision to forego the standard D'Hondt rotational system for distributing ministries which means the next in line SDLP are the big losers.
However the SDLP do have a point on some issues, namely that there is a suspicion that Sinn Fein and the DUP are putting their very real differences on justice to one side in order to gain the final seal of legitimacy for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Once devolution is achieved the consensus could quickly disappear leading to the kind of stalemate currently being experienced in the education ministry.
When typical Northern Ireland political intractability is combined with the frightening estimates of the cost of devolution of policing and justice, it becomes apparent that there is more than reasonable grounds to fear that this real opportunity to build a new rights based Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland could be squandered. However, we have little choice other than to move forward and trust our MLA's to deliver on their electoral mandate.
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