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14 January 2010 Edition

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Crunch talks on transfer of Policing and Justice powers

The spotlight has been well and truly on Assembly politics over the last couple of weeks, and not always for the right reasons. Sinn Féin has highlighted for some time what the key issues are.
The media has inaccurately summarised the problems as ‘differences between the Sinn Féin and the DUP’, ignoring the crucial role and responsibility of the Irish and British Governments in ensuring the full implementation of the terms of the Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreements.
These Agreements are solemn accords between both governments. It is disingenuous to pass the buck to parties such as Sinn Féin for the failure to implement political agreements, particularly when the party has shown huge commitment and patience in its efforts to engage with and work through issues with the DUP.
The political institutions of the Good Friday Agreement including the North’s power-sharing Executive were re-established in 2007 on the basis of the St. Andrew’s Agreement. We are now three years on from those discussions, yet large parts of that Agreement remain unimplemented.
In addition to the transfer of Policing and Justice powers from Britain to the North of Ireland, other commitments relating to the equality agenda and the Irish Language are in default. This is not acceptable.
Prior to the current difficulties which saw Peter Robinson temporarily step aside as First Minister, the DUP’s refusal to operate the political institutions on the basis of equality and partnership and the failure to agree the transfer of powers over Policing and Justice had resulted in political impasse and crisis.
The recent controversies which have affected the Robinson family and the DUP have served to act as a distraction and have further deepened political instability. All of this came to a head this week with the temporary resignation of Peter Robinson as First Minister. His appointment of Arlene Foster in his place does not, as of today, appear to have delayed the all-important negotiations, which had been due to take place in the post-Christmas period regardless. Peter Robinson is playing a role in the negotiations and he has been publicly backed in this by the DUP.
It has been suggested in the media that the recent events in the DUP may have ‘spawned a new realism’, in that the party recognises that a collapse of power sharing would result in a fresh election, the outcome of which the DUP cannot determine. This will have been overshadowed for Robinson by his personal situation. A collapse in power sharing would also have ramifications for his political career, which he appears to be fighting hard to save.
This may have brought an added impetus to the negotiations, to which the two governments are now paying particular attention. The 26-County Minister for Foreign Affairs Mícheál Martin and British Secretary of State Shaun Woodward met in Dublin on Tuesday night to discuss the political situation.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen and British Prime Minster Gordon Brown are to meet in London on Thursday.
Sinn Féin is currently in important political discussions with the DUP about all of the key issues.
Speaking on Tuesday, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said that whatever happened in the short term to the negotiations, the need for partnership and equality was a constant.
“The failure of the DUP to fulfill its political commitments and work the political institutions, as it agreed, on the basis of partnership and equality, has led to a considerable lack of public confidence in the political institutions,” he said.
“This has been the case for a considerable time before last week’s BBC ‘Spotlight’ programme. And at the most recent meeting with the DUP on Thursday last, with Martin McGuinness and myself, neither Peter Robinson nor Nigel Dodds showed any willingness to agree a date for the transfer of powers on policing and justice. This is despite the DUP commitments on this. It is despite the communal and policing need to do so and to have public safety and law and order issues dealt with by the local administration.”
The Sinn Féin leader added that it appeared to be dawning “eventually and belatedly on the two governments that they need to act as guarantors of the agreements they are charged with upholding.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin Fermanagh/South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew said:
“We believe that with political will these political difficulties can be resolved; we are looking to the future. The discussions are hugely important. The issues predate the current controversies of recent times and everyone knows what they are. Gerry Adams has made clear that we will not be dealing with the details of the discussions except to say if the political will is there it is our view that these matters can be resolved.”
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