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Deal over Northern Ireland justice is in danger: Woodward

By Sam Lister

The deal over devolving policing and justice is “on the edge”, the Secretary of State has warned as he ramped up the public pressure for the first time since the talks began.

Shaun Woodward has attempted to remain low key since negotiations started at Hillsborough Castle, but he told MPs yesterday that patience should not be pushed to the limit.

During Northern Ireland questions in the House of Commons he urged leaders in the province to “summon leadership and courage and act”, insisting now is the time.

Mr Woodward told MPs: “Considerable progress has been made. With good political will, we believe the parties should be able to reach a reasonable agreement.

“Patience is required, but equally we must be careful not to try people's patience to distraction.

“Unfair failure to make progress would not be rewarded, and I don't mean by any particular process now, but by the people of Northern Ireland.

“We have changed their lives by the peace process, we have secured it in the political process.

“It is right to make progress but we do indeed now sit on the edge.

“Whatever agreement is reached by the parties must be durable.

“It is very important to understand that what is at stake here is not simply arrangements for a date for the transfer of policing and justice powers, for which the Government strongly believes the time is now right.

“This is the end of a political process which began with the peace process itself.”

The DUP's William McCrea said community confidence was essential in securing a deal.

“Without that community confidence, no matter what pressure is placed on me or my colleagues, the DUP will not be buying into any deal,” he added.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson said his party fully supported the effort to reach a deal.

“But he said the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP had to be “fully involved” in talks as “equal members of the four-party coalition”.

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