Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Why the deal isn’t the final piece of devolution jigsaw

The agreement on the devolution of policing and justice is probably the biggest con since snake oil vendors were in their pomp or since someone pretended they had the Hitler Diaries.

It has been hailed as a breakthrough by political leaders from Dublin to London to Washington, but what really was achieved after all the brinksmanship and threats to pull down the power-sharing administration?

Actually, all the talking and grandstanding by our noble politicians produced just one thing — a date when policing and justice powers could finally be devolved to Northern Ireland.

That date is April 12. Those interested in becoming the new policing and justice minister will put their names into the ring today, but everyone expects it will be David Ford, leader of the Alliance Party.

Now those two developments — a date for devolution and a process for electing the new minister — will hardly go down in the history books as a grand achievement, even by our parochial standards.

In any normal society, setting a date for devolution and choosing a minister would just be two more items on an everyday agenda, not a reason for knee-trembling excitement on global news bulletins.

The con trick in the whole affair is that now we are being told that the final piece of the devolution jigsaw is in place, with the inference that all will be peace and light at Stormont from now on.

Nothing could be further from the truth, unless there is a spectacular change of heart from all the parties involved.

For the really tricky problems were not resolved, in spite of all the talk of agreement.

Take parades, for example. That is the issue that the hardline elements within the DUP want resolved to their satisfaction, otherwise they will continue to be a grumbling sore on the rump of the party.

As the Black and Apprentice Boys institutions showed in Londonderry, there is one way to resolve contentious parades — getting both the marchers and local residents to sit down and thrash out an agreement.

A working party is being set up at Stormont to see how this formula can be adapted to deal with the five contentious Orange parades that blight each summer.

It also seems likely that the Parades Commission will be axed — and replaced by an adjudication body made up of legal and lay members (what’s the difference and is this another con to please anti-Commission politicians?).

A working group is also to be set up to see how the Executive could work better. At least the bar is not being set too high — the Executive could hardly work less well.

It would be nice — however idealistic the notion — if the parties could show even a modicum of respect for each other and not regard the policies brought forward by ministers as an excuse to score points against the other members of the Executive.

And yet another working group is to be established to see how policies which have so far failed — such as educational reform — can be made to work. Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness will also look at tidying up loose ends from the St Andrew’s Agreement.

So let’s recap on this momentous agreement.

Our politicians agreed to select a new Justice Minister (that wasn’t really an issue once Sinn Fein passed on the post) and they’ve agreed a date for devolution of policing and justice (it had to happen sometime and don’t be surprised if it is derailed again).

The rest of the agreement is actually a list of things there is no agreement on. Who wrote this agreement? Lewis Carroll?

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