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Commons backs the devolution of policing powers for Northern Ireland

The devolution of policing and justice moved a step closer last night after MPs backed the Parliamentary orders needed to transfer the powers to Stormont.

The orders were approved without a vote, and with support from both Labour and the Conservatives, the result was a foregone conclusion.

It enables the creation of a Department for Justice for Northern Ireland on April 12.

Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward told MPs the transfer of policing and justice showed that politics would be the “only way forward to reconcile disagreements”.

“The completion of devolution will see the arrangements for sharing power fully realised on April 12,” he said.

“It will ensure that local politicians in Northern Ireland can take responsibility for these decisions which should and can be taken in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Woodward said the powers were only temporary and a permanent solution needed to be found by May 2012.

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He said some matters remained “reserved”, and the 50:50 recruitment of Catholics and Protestants to the PSNI.

The Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson welcomed the transfer of powers.

“For the first time since powers were taken away from the Northern Ireland government in March 1972, Stormont will once again exercise powers over policing, criminal justice, the courts and local security issues,” he said.

Ulster Unionist North Down MP Lady Hermon, who said she regretted her party's stance, asked what efforts Conservative leader David Cameron had taken to secure UUP support.

Mr Paterson replied: “I can assure you that Mr Cameron had several conversations with your party leader.

“But ... we believe in devolution and a national party here is not in the position to force a local party to make a decision based on its own experience.”

The MP for Foyle, the SDLP’s Mark Durkan, said there were still concerns over security issues which had not been devolved.

“We still have deep reservations about this dangerous twilight zone that exists in the interface between national security and the regional policing interest and the full accountability of devolution,” he said.

The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson said it was the right time to devolve the powers.

“There is no alternative but to move this process forward — difficult though it is, challenging though it is,” he said.

“We must offer to this generation, and to the next, the hope of something better.”

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