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20 November 2008 Edition

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Progress on transfer of Policing and Justice powers

The agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP this week on the transfer of Policing and Justice powers from Britain to the North of Ireland is significant. The latest progress is the result of very detailed and hard political work over recent months and weeks.
The agreement deals with the issue of the transfer of Policing and Justice powers, the detail of which is contained in a joint letter to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee (AERC), a Process Paper, and in the statements from Joint First Ministers Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson.
The agreement instructs the Assembly and Executive Review Committee (AERC) to prepare the way for the creation of a new Department of Justice in the North. The first move will be the appointment of an Attorney General for the Six Counties. To ensure the independence of the Judiciary, responsibility for judicial appointments will rest with a Judicial Appointments Commission.
The process outlined by the First and deputy First Minister includes the method for the selection of a Minister for Justice. Any Justice Minister elected up until May 2012 would require the support of a majority of Assembly members, including a majority of nationalists and a majority of unionist MLAs. However, these arrangements are subject to a ‘sunset clause’ bringing them to an end not later than May 2012 when permanent arrangements would then be put in place.
Taken with the agreement between Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson in July Sinn Féin believes the agreement announced on Tuesday is the basis on which all the publicly expressed concerns about policing and justice powers will be resolved, including who will be the North’s Justice Minister.
Sinn Féin and the DUP have also agreed how to tackle a number of uncontentious but very important issues, such as hardship relief and economic matters. A number of social, economic and cultural matters, including for example Acht na Gaeilge and post primary education, continue to be work in progress.
Sinn Féin and the DUP also agreed that the Six County Executive will meet this Thursday, 20 November and Ministers will also discuss the first draft of a paper detailing measures to deal with the financial hardship being faced by many people and other related matters. The resolution of these issues has already been the subject of discussions with the British Government.
Throughout the recent political impasse Sinn Féin has been consistent in its approach. This was that the Executive and other political institutions must operate on the basis of equality and partnership.
Central to Sinn Féin’s strategy in recent years has been to end partisan political control of policing and justice structures in the North and to subject both to democratic scrutiny and accountability.
Sinn Féin has pursued this objective in the context of partnership government as required by the Good Friday Agreement.
The agreement on the transfer of policing and justice powers announced this week is vindication of Sinn Féin’s political approach and offers considerable hope that further political progress will be achieved in the time ahead.

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