The Deputy First Minister tells Political Correspondent Noel McAdam he hopes policing powers can be in the Executive’s hands by Christmas
Martin McGuinness has challenged the DUP to “hold its nerve” to secure the switch of policing and justice powers to Stormont — hopefully by Christmas.
As he prepares with First Minister Peter Robinson for crucial talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown next month on a financial package to underpin the transfer, Mr McGuinness said he could see no other obstacle ahead.
“The only difficulty that we could be facing would be for the DUP to lose its nerve and to renege on the joint commitments that both Peter Robinson and I have made,” he said.
“The DUP would be making a huge mistake to be frightened or to be nervous about how they go forward when it is quite clear that devolution is quite popular.”
Mr McGuinness said he would be very surprised if — after a funding deal is agreed — the First Minister still concludes the time is not right to appoint Stormont’s first Justice Minister.
“I think it would be a very strange thing for a political leader to agree this process and go through all we have gone through if he was going to be spooked by anything the Ulster Unionists would say.”
In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the senior Sinn Fein politician repeatedly attacked his other Executive co-parties, Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, but talked up what he argues is the increasing proven abiliity of his party and the DUP to reach difficult decisions.
The criticism comes despite the fact that the two main parties have the numbers between them — 64 seats out of 108 — to force through the transfer in the face of UUP and SDLP opposition.
But the Deputy First Minister said UUP ministers have played a “very negative” role in the Executive — a point he has discussed with Shadow Secretary of State Owen Paterson.
“Owen Paterson strikes me as someone who is a straight talker and it was quite clear from my conversation with him that there was some considerable dismay within the Conservative Party about what they were hearing from the UUP on the issue of transfer. That’s something they have to resolve between themselves,” Mr McGuinness added.
The interview was conducted in Mr McGuinness’ office at Stormont Castle before he left for a fortnight’s leave somewhere in Donegal with fishing, as usual, high on his holiday agenda.
Right now, however, he has his hooks into Sir Reg Empey’s UUP who, he claims, is pursuing an “opportunistic” approach designed to undermine the DUP and to “cosy up” to Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice.
“The UUP need to make big decisions, they need to decide on their role in these institutions. I believe to date they have played a very negative role. They are, at best, semi-detached ministers.
“I also believe they have quite shamelessly pursued an electoral alliance with Jim Allister’s TUV rejectionists and this is now dictating much of their approach to the institutions.
“I have actually said this directly to Reg Empey in recent weeks that it is a mistake to cosy
up to the TUV. There is much debate around what is happening with the DUP and the TUV, (but) I think there needs to be a focus on what is happening with the UUP and TUV. I have never, for example, heard any UUP statements ... attacking Jim Allister’s desire to to tear down the institutions created by the Good Friday Agreement.”
Mr McGuinness points to the agreed process currently in place with DUP to deliver the transfer and argues important milestones have been reached, including:
l Legislation at Westminster.
l Report of Assembly Executive and Review committee.
l Draft legislation at the last Executive meeting.
“It will now go before the Assembly early in the new term and I believe we will be in a position to set a date for the transfer of power. I do have a reasonable expectation that we will be able to proceed and have made no secret of the fact that I believe this can be accomplished by the end of the year.”
Mr Brown appointed key officials to draw up a financial package to unveil to the First Ministers.
“In many ways Peter Robinson and I have been singing from the same hymn sheet in terms of the responsibilities that the British Government has. We have identified legitimate issues and presented those to the British Government in terms of the legacy issues, hearing loss (claims by police officers), equal pay, pensions, etc, etc... and been through this issue with a fine-tooth comb against the backdrop of some senior officials in London being reluctant to go through it with a fine- tooth