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25 September 2008 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

Are they serious? 

ARE the SDLP and the Alliance Party serious players in progressing peace on this island?
If they claim to be the parties of moderation, why have they singularly failed to support the implementation of the most important outstanding issue in the Good Friday Agreement: the devolution of policing and justice?
Their political utterances and sniping from the sidelines at Sinn Féin suggest they have thrown their lot in with those unionists who have consistently threatened the destruction of the power-sharing institutions.
They need to be reminded as we approach the 40th anniversary of the attack by the unionist Stormont regime on 5 October Civil Rights march in Derry that it was the failure of an impartial policing and justice system which fuelled the conflict of the past 40 years
It was this action more than anything else that exposed the partisan control of policing and justice and the naked sectarianism which passed for law and order during those 50 years.
Those days are gone, never to return, and unionism – all shades of it, the DUP, the UUP, the Alliance and indeed the SDLP who have donned the mantra of the Civil Rights movement – need to wake up to the reality that sharing power with those they don’t like or trust is the name of the game. Policing and justice is way up the top of the priority ladder and no amount of procrastinating is going to change that.
To claim that the transfer of policing and justice power is not a priority for the public or that the North’s not ready for it or that there are more important decisions to be taken is political point-scoring at its nastiest, never mind that the politicians who make such claims are totally out of touch with reality.
Look at the headlines in the papers. A man viciously beaten in South Belfast. A UVF gang attacks a woman biting her in the face. Anti-community activity is costing ratepayers thousands of pounds annually. Suspected murderers are given immunity from prosecution and Raymond McCord is still receiving death threats form unionist paramilitaries.
The phonelines in chat shows are bunged up with people demanding better policing and more stringent sentences by the courts. The majority of callers to a BBC Radio Foyle programme on anti-community activity claimed that such problems would be resolved by the transfer of policing and justice powers.  
Even British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has clearly indicated that a timetable must be set this year for this transfer. The reaction of all shades of unionism, and especially the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson, is reminding Brown that the nine votes of the DUP saved his bacon during the 42-day internment debate. Hell hath no fury like those unionists scorned by a prime minister who clearly has little interest in this little fiefdom.
Sensible people accept that policing and justice has to be taken out of the control of the NIO and British/unionist securocrats. This may not suit the political aspirations of those parties trying to flag up their diminishing relevance in the Assembly by pretending to be an opposition, but it’s going to happen.

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