SF: Devolved policing cannot be derailed

Plans to devolve policing and justice powers to the Northern Assembly should not be derailed by the Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP) poor European election performance, Sinn Féin signalled today.

Plans to devolve policing and justice powers to the Northern Assembly should not be derailed by the Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP) poor European election performance, Sinn Féin signalled today.

The transfer of the powers is expected to top the agenda when First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness meet British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London tomorrow.

However, after the DUP suffered a dramatic drop in support in the European election there has been speculation it may opt to delay the devolution process to appease hardliners, despite Sinn Féin demands for progress.

Sinn Féin and DUP divisions on the issue disrupted the work of the power-sharing administration at Stormont last year, before a deal was agreed on the way forward.

While no date for devolution was declared, there was speculation it could be completed by Autumn of this year.

Today Mr McGuinness said: "The elections are over and the dust has settled. People have had time to digest the results.

"Over 85% of those who turned out voted for parties which support the power sharing and all-Ireland institutions.

"It is now time to move decisively ahead, get on with the job we are elected to do.

"There are a number of outstanding issues which need to be satisfactorily resolved including the transfer of powers on policing and justice."

Sinn Féin topped the poll in the election with 26% of the vote.

The three European Parliament seats available in the North were won by Sinn Féin, the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists, with the DUP taking the third seat.

The DUP vote plummeted from 32% in 2004 to 18.2%, while the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) seized nearly a 14% share of the vote after campaigning against sharing power with republicans.

The strong showing for TUV leader Jim Allister has fuelled speculation that the DUP leadership might come under pressure from within its own ranks to delay the devolution of the policing powers.

However, Mr McGuinness said: "This issue was not a contentious part of the recent election campaign.

"These matters should not be allowed to become subject to electoral concerns by any party or government.

"They are commitments which must be implemented.

"These matters will form the basis of our discussions with the British Prime Minister tomorrow."

The Assembly and Executive Review Committee is in London today for talks with Justice Secretary Jack Straw as part of its work on the mechanics of the devolution process.

The DUP has flagged-up concerns over whether government will provide the necessary funding.

Secretary of State Shaun Woodward has said, however, that government will not allow finances to jeopardise the move.

The devolution of the powers was promised in the St Andrews Agreement that paved the way for establishing the power-sharing government led by the DUP and Sinn Féin.

However, last year the two parties clashed over the timing of the devolution process.

Sinn Féin accused the DUP of dragging its feet on the issue after the unionist party said the necessary community confidence did not exist for the move.

Executive meetings were stalled for five months as a result of the dispute before the parties agreed a new way forward.

The blueprint set out a process leading to the transfer of the powers, but it did not specify a date for when the move would be completed.

The devolution process will see the creation of a Justice Minister at Stormont.

It is predicted that the Alliance Party will hold the post after the DUP and Sinn Féin agreed that neither of them would take the job at this stage.

The Ulster Unionist Party has, meanwhile, expressed concerns that the Stormont regime is not ready to take on the policing powers, which it said may prove too divisive.

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