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5 November 2009 Edition

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Policing and Justice transfer impasse

The British Government and the DUP are directly responsible for the current impasse in negotiations on the transfer of Policing and Justice powers from Britain to the North of Ireland.
The negotiation on policing and justice transfer was settled in October 2006. In the St Andrew’s Agreement, The British and Irish Governments, Sinn Féin and the DUP under the leadership of Ian Paisley dealt with all outstanding issues in a comprehensive negotiation.
An extraordinary Sinn Féin Ard Fheis on the issue of policing and justice followed in January 2007. Elections took place in March. The institutions were reinstated in May. Full transfer of powers was then scheduled to be completed by May 2008.
The final elements of the plan for transfer were put in place two weeks ago with agreement on a financial package. In the lead-up to this, the DUP under Paisley’s successor Peter Robinson, continuously prevaricated and demanded movement on unconnected side deals. But with Martin McGuinness leading the negotiations for Sinn Féin, a package was finally agreed.
It was then that Robinson introduced a new precondition, declaring that dealing with controversial parades is also a precondition to transfer.
The British and unionist political leaderships have acted recklessly in these negotiations and may seek to push transfer of powers beyond next year’s Westminster election. The DUP may even plan to raise further preconditions.
The backdrop to the current impasse is the divided and volatile condition in which the DUP and unionism in general finds itself due to the nature of political change in recent years.
The unionist political leadership and the NIO are allowing rejectionist elements set the agenda. There are those within the DUP who deliberately seek to obstruct progress because they want to return the North to a unionist one-party state. But there will be no return to unionist majority rule in the North. Unionists can only exercise political power now if they accept partnership and equality with republicans and nationalists.
The political institutions are only of value if they deliver in the terms agreed on Good Friday 1998 and at St Andrews.
However, as Sinn Féin Chairperson Declan Kearney points out in this week’s An Phoblacht, DUP and British Government short-term expediency has the potential to push the present impasse into free-fall.
Meanwhile, the republican political project will not be diverted by DUP or British brinkmanship. Ours is a national project with long term objectives. Sinn Féin is now making preparations for the Westminster election campaign next spring. The momentum for political change cannot and will not be stopped.

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