Devolution of North's policing 'on track', says Woodward

Devolution of North's policing 'on track', says Woodward

The devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont remains on track despite the sometimes perplexing rhetoric of the North's politicians, the Secretary of State said tonight.

Shaun Woodward told an event in America he was confident that the transfer of law and order powers from Westminster and other outstanding pieces of the peace process jigsaw could be put in place.

Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionists are embroiled in an increasingly bitter spat on the issue, with both leading partners in the region's powersharing administration accusing the other of blocking progress.

Republicans have warned of serious political consequences if the DUP do not agree to the move before Christmas and today Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the impasse was not sustainable.

However, DUP First Minister Peter Robinson has said he will only support devolution when there is sufficient confidence within the unionist community and claims recent utterances from Sinn Féin figures amount to threats, which are only serving to undermine that confidence.

But addressing an audience at Harvard University, Mr Woodward said he was sure the matter could be resolved.

"We stand now on the edge of completing devolution," he told an event at the university's School of Government.

"I know that sometimes the rhetoric can be perplexing but I urge everyone to listen carefully both to what is said and what is not said."

The devolution furore is taking place against the backdrop of attacks on the security forces by dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.

The government has offered a £1bn financial package to support the establishment of a regional Department of Justice and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has held a series of meetings with Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness in a bid to strike a deal.

Mr Woodward said the entire peace process, and the various agreements that marked its progress, had required patience, commitment and the capacity to absorb setbacks.

He also indicated that the same qualities would see the last leg of the devolution journey successfully completed.

"The road to completing devolution, despite the occasional loud rhetoric, also is one of progress," he said.

"The British government will make, even in this recession, almost £1bn (€1.1bn) available if policing and justice is devolved.

"The Executive and Assembly yesterday passed a Bill to create a Justice Department.

"There are still some issues to be resolved and they can be." The secretary told students that the American administration continued to play a positive role in process.

"So yes there is work to do and along with the Irish Government and with the support of the administration here in the United States, (we) stand ready to continue doing all we can to nurture this framework to a successful conclusion," he said.

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness today sent out a letter to all Assembly members outlining the procedure for electing a future Justice Minister.

Both main parties have agreed not to nominate a candidate for the role, but have said the occupant must secure cross community support in a vote at the Assembly.

That marks out the non-aligned Alliance party as the clear favourite to take the portfolio.

More on this topic

Baggott: Policing deal 'will build on peace process'

Stormont Assembly passes devolutionStormont Assembly passes devolution

McGuinness: UUP rejecting deal for 'cynical' reasons

UUP to oppose devolution deal

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