Analysis: A lot of justice devolution spade work is done: all that’s really left is the timetable
The massive budgetary issues surrounding policing and justice in Northern Ireland have been dealt with, following months of painstaking negotiations.
And much of the technical work — such as how a new Department would relate to other areas and agencies within Government and the relationship between the Justice Minister and his or her Executive counterparts, as well as the policy priorities — have also been broadly sorted, in large part during the on-going meetings of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee.
But Sinn Fein has still not got what it needs most of all — a firm date for when power over policing, courts and prisons will be transferred from Westminster to Northern Irish control.
And while unionists have long dreamed of having responsibilitiy for such functions again — for the first time since the early 1970s — it has now become a touchstone issue for republicans. It will be proof positive of Irish peo
ple, albeit northern Irish, wresting control from ‘the Brits’.
But the DUP has insisted it cannot concur with a timetable until it can be certain there is sufficient community confidence and in terms of making that assessment, the party is probably in a more difficult place than it has been at any point since devolution returned.
There are also a number of vital concessions the party has pointed up as essential in terms of building up confidence within the unionist community, including a new mechanism to replace the much-hated Parades Commission and retention of the personnel who remain under the part-time police reserve.
Sinn Fein argues the DUP is now “boxed in” but the DUP insists it can only complete an agreement when the time is right.
Sinn Fein warns it could walk away if the DUP fails to show progress on a date, the DUP does not believe republicans want to pull the institutions down.
Six weeks is a very, very long time in politics: but it may not be enough to resolve this conundrum.