AGREEMENT ON THE EDGE
Key meetings of Assembly committees are taking place in Belfast this
week which will seek to bridge significant differences on the issue of
the transfer of justice and policing powers from London to Belfast.
The issue central to the return of powers next March under the British
and Irish governments' timetable.
Sinn Fein has rejected a DUP proposal at a meeting of the same
committee last Thursday which called for any future justice minister
to be elected by a 70% weighted cross-community vote.
This would mean that any nationalist nomination to such a post could
be vetoed by the DUP.
Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly told Radio Ulster he "will not collude"
own party's exclusion from office.
Mr Kelly said he was open to any model on the transfer of policing
powers as long as it was linked to a clear timetable and he accused the
DUP of opposing the transfer of powers as an issue to block
power-sharing with republicans.
He said the DUP were "not producing anything that shows a way out"
the difficulties over policing.
The nationalist SDLP has also rejected a DUP proposal for any new
justice minister to lose the power to vote at executive meetings.
SDLP MP Alban Maginness accused the DUP of "slapping down on the
table" a brand new demand that would require further legislation.
"It would see a justice minister at the Executive who would have
vote and who would be a second-class minister in what is meant to be
an Executive of equals. Bizarrely, the justice minister would not even
be able to vote for his/her own proposals to the Executive."
Last week, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and PSNI police chief Hugh
Orde held a controversial "confidence building" meeting in Belfast.
The landmark meeting began with delegations from Sinn Fein and the PSNI
facing each other across the table in the presence of television cameras.
It is thought the media coverage of the meeting was intended to act as
a signal to DUP and republican grassroots of Sinn Fein's conditional
preparedness to endorse the PSNI.
However, there was no handshake, despite one of the cameramen asking
Mr Adams and Mr Orde to make such a gesture.
Afterwards, Mr Adams held to his position that there could be no
resolution of the policing issue until the DUP agreed a timeframe for
devolving policing and justice to the Executive. However, he also
said it was still possible to meet the two governments' March 26th
deadline for restoring power-sharing.
"What we have to do is bring the PSNI up to the mark so that those
people who are republicans can feel that for the first time ever we
have accountable civic policing that they can endorse and subscribe
to. But, let's be real about this, there is a lot of work to be done
to get to that point," he added.
He said it required a two-thirds vote at an ardchomhairle to call an
ardfheis on policing and he wasn't in a position to call an
ardchomhairle meeting. "We need to resolve the whole matter of the
transfer of powers on policing and justice and a do-able, definitive
timeframe to achieve that," he said.
Tuesday's meeting on policing is expected to be the last talks before
Christmas. Its members are due to report back to the Programme for
Government Committee on January 3rd.