Northern Ireland’s first Justice Minister in almost four decades has vowed that dissidents who want to drag Northern Ireland back to the dark days of violence will not succeed.
Writing in today’s Belfast Telegraph David Ford has said that all local parties must now work together to achieve a peaceful future following the latest Real IRA attack on the Northern Ireland peace process.
Mr Ford was yesterday sworn in as minister just hours after the Real IRA bombing of MI5 headquarters in Holywood.
The historic election has been heralded as crucial to the successful completion of the devolution jigsaw and Mr Ford has said he hopes that the transfer of powers will reduce support for dissident groups.
After his election the Alliance leader acknowledged he had not received the unanimous support of all politicians yesterday, but vowed that he would work with every party to enhance political stability.
“I am fully conscious that I am not the unanimous choice of this Assembly but I do say to every member of this house, that we have a duty together to provide leadership and if we didn't know that before, we sadly had a reminder of it at half past 12 this morning,” he said.
“We have a duty to show we can provide partnership, leadership and delivery and ensure that all our people see the benefits of devolution.”
Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Minister pledged their support to the new Justice Minister as they insisted the peace process was “rock solid” in the face of the Real IRA bomb attack in Co Down.
First Minister Peter Robinson said: “I have no doubt in my mind that this attack was timed to coincide with the transfer of policing and justice powers.
“As I have said before, the transfer of powers will not be derailed by those who would return us to the darkest days of our past.
Martin McGuinness added: “Let me be clear, however, that anyone seeking to obstruct the progress we are making should recognise our determination to deliver a shared society based on respect and tolerance.
“They will not achieve the destruction of either the peace process or the political process, both of which remain rock solid,” he said.
Nominated at Stormont yesterday by his own party’s deputy leader Naomi Long, Mr Ford was finally confirmed as the long-anticipated Justice Minister after attempts to secure the essential cross-community backing for Ulster Unionist and SDLP candidates failed.
“This is, I believe, a significant day for Northern Ireland,” Mr Ford said.
“It is a step forward in the peace process, in the political process, and in ensuring that the institutions which have been in place since 1998 are firmly affixed and are playing their part in serving the needs for the people of Northern Ireland.”
Immediately after his election, the DUP seized the chairmanship of the Assembly committee, which will monitor the decisions of the new Justice chief.
Peter Robinson nominated Lord Morrow, a leading party sceptic, who once said that the devolution of policing and justice powers would not happen in the lifetime of the current Stormont Assembly.
Sinn Fein, as expected, took the vice-chair of the all-party committee with former Maze hunger striker Raymond McCartney accepting the position.
In a further development Mr Ford last night discussed his new brief in a telephone conversation with his southern counterpart Dermot Ahern.
Now it is understood the Republic’s Justice Minister could meet Mr Ford within days.
Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott could also attend the meeting
Sources indicated the meeting could be arranged within the next week, with the cross-border response to the dissident threat likely to be on the agenda.