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Northern Ireland policing powers could be handed back to London

As political crisis deepens, it emerges body which oversees PSNI will cease to exist if institutions collapse 

By Deborah McAleese

Published 15/09/2015

Policing Board member Jonathan Craig
Policing Board member Jonathan Craig

Westminster could be forced to temporarily take back oversight of policing in Northern Ireland if Stormont topples.

Emergency legislation would have to be rushed through to keep responsibility for the PSNI in the province should the Assembly collapse.

The Northern Ireland Policing Board is the body that holds the PSNI to account. Ten of its 19 members are MLAs. If the Assembly fails there is currently no provision for the Policing Board to retain oversight.

To have to transfer policing powers to Westminster, even temporarily, could seriously set back the policing project, it has been warned.

However, Policing Board member Jonathan Craig said that emergency legislation could be pushed through quite quickly for a new form of devolved oversight.

“Some sort of temporary arrangements would have to be put in place and emergency legislation rushed through Westminster to ensure oversight of some description will continue.

“I am confident that any vacuum left in terms of policing oversight should the Assembly collapse could be very quickly rectified,” the DUP man said.

Policing expert Dr Jonny Byrne, a lecturer in criminology at the Ulster University, warned of the dangers of ceding policing power to London.

“The reform of policing, which was a central component of the peace process, was all about building legitimacy, trust and confidence through the separation of politics and policing and increasing transparency and accountability,” said Dr Byrne.

“In 2008, the devolution of policing and justice powers was the final act in the process, and reinforced both locally and internationally, that Northern Ireland was moving forward and that our politicians had earned the right to manage the emotive and complex issues surrounding policing and justice.

“The thought of taking those powers back, would set back immensely the policing project.

“It would tell the world that our elected representatives have neither the capability or maturity to deal with political issues, and that Westminster is still the go-to body in the absence of Northern Ireland functioning as a normal democratic society.”

The Northern Ireland Policing Board was set up in 2001 after police and justice powers were devolved as part of the peace process.

It is the responsibility of the Board to appoint the chief constable, deputy chief constable, assistant chief constables and senior civilian staff and set priorities and targets for police performance.

The Board also monitors the work of the police, oversees complaints against senior officers and the discipline of senior officers.

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