Call to allay Unionist fears ahead of justice devolution

The British government must take further steps to boost unionists’ confidence ahead of the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) will tell the British Prime Minister tonight.

The British government must take further steps to boost unionists’ confidence ahead of the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) will tell the British Prime Minister tonight.

The North's First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are to hold talks in Downing Street with Gordon Brown.

And while the transfer of policing powers is top of the agenda, DUP sources said they will be asking the Prime Minister to ease unionist fears over the scrapping of the police reserve and the financial collapse of the Presbyterian Mutual Society (PMS).

Prior to tonight’s meeting Sinn Féin warned that the DUP should not delay the devolution process as a response to the rise of the hardline unionist vote in the European elections.

But tonight a DUP source said unionists were focused on the issue of compensating the thousands of people hit by the failure of the PMS financial institution and preventing the planned scrapping of the full-time police reserve.

DUP leader Mr Robinson said a final decision on the police reserve should not be made by Hugh Orde because he is set to leave as head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in September.

“Has the Prime Minister any level of concern about the expressed intention of the Chief Constable of the PSNI to axe the full-time Police Reserve in Northern Ireland?” Mr Robinson asked during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons today.

“Does he recognise that there is a heightened level of dissident activity and that the Chief Constable is leaving his job? Is this not a decision that should be left to the new Chief Constable?”

Mr Robinson later added: “I wanted to ensure that the Prime Minister is fully aware of the concerns within Northern Ireland over the comments made by the current PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde which would see the axing of the full-time Reserve.

“This is the wrong decision on a number of levels, not least because Northern Ireland still has a small dangerous element within society who remain intent on bringing violence to our streets.”

The meeting follows speculation that the DUP’s poor election performance may see its leadership come under pressure to delay devolution of policing and justice powers, despite Sinn Féin demands for progress.

Last night Mr McGuinness said the political parties should focus on delivering on policies they are pledged to introduce, including the devolution of policing powers to the power-sharing administration at Stormont.

In the European election the DUP vote dropped from 32% in the last European poll to 18.2%.

The hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), which opposes sharing power with republicans, seized nearly a 14% share of the vote in its first major electoral outing.

But last night Mr McGuinness said: “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.”

A DUP source speaking ahead of tonight’s meeting in London said the party was intent on dealing with issues of immediate importance to its voters.

Moderator of the Presbyterian Church the Rev Dr Stafford Carson yesterday raised the concerns of the PMS’s investors in a meeting with the First and Deputy First ministers at Stormont.

While the Government guaranteed deposits up to £50,000 (€58,800) in banks battered in the global meltdown, it made no such undertaking to the PMS because it was not regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

The removal of the full-time police reserve is part of the Patten reforms which transformed the Royal Ulster Constabulary into the PSNI in a bid to secure greater cross-community and political support for policing in the North.

The new policing structures now involve Sinn Féin and the nationalist SDLP for the first time in the region’s history.

But earlier this week the Police Federation which represents rank and file officers raised concerns over proceeding with the removal of the police reserve while dissident republicans remain violently opposed to the peace process.

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