The UK government must not allow unionists in the North to block a deal on devolving policing and justice powers to the region’s Assembly, Sinn Féin said today.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is engaged in long running talks with Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on the issue, with the latest set of negotiations held over the weekend in Westminster.
But with the DUP holding-off on a final deal, a leading republican today said the Government should assert its authority and ensure it fulfils a commitment to see unionists and Sinn Féin share policing and justice responsibility in Northern Ireland for the first time.
Mr Brown has already offered a £1bn (€1.1bn) package to finance the transfer of the powers and has agreed to a DUP demand for £20m (€22m) for former Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) part-time reservists who sought compensation since the effective phasing out of their posts.
But Sinn Féin’s Newry and Armagh MP Conor Murphy said the continued DUP refusal to agree a final date for devolution was straining the talks process.
“The transfer of policing and justice was agreed as long ago as October 2006,” he told a republican commemoration event.
“There is no excuse for the long delay ever since then on the questions of funding and timing. The issue of funding has now been resolved.
“The only thing remaining is for the leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party to accept that the time has come for transfer and to get on with it.”
Mr Murphy claimed that the DUP was instead allowing its leadership to be blown off course by hard-liners opposed to an accommodation with republicans.
He said the party risked sharing the fate of former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble who was himself deposed by right-wing pressure from the DUP.
“We are seeing a DUP leadership acting in the same manner as their former arch-enemy David Trimble – constantly looking over their shoulder, prevaricating, delaying and attempting to obstruct,” Mr Murphy told supporters.
“The latest DUP tactic is to introduce totally extraneous issues as a way of further putting-off the inevitable.
“They are seeking a £20m payment for former RUC reservists. I can think of many better uses for £20m – hospital beds, classrooms and roads to name but three.
“The DUP are also seeking legal weapons for former UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment) and RUC members.
“Isn’t it ironic that those who held-up the political process for years over the issue of getting rid of weapons now want to hold it up again to bring back weapons?”
He said his party was particularly concerned at DUP calls for the scrapping of the Parades Commission ahead of a deal.
The Commission rules on controversial parades and has restricted Orange Order marches through Catholic communities.
Unionists have long demanded the removal of the Commission, but DUP leader Peter Robinson said it was also prudent for the marching issue to be resolved before local politicians take-on further powers linked to policing.
Mr Murphy said it was reckless to bring the parades issue into the political negotiations.
“What is worse than this conduct by the DUP is that they are being indulged by the British government,” he said.
“Gordon Brown must re-commit to the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews Agreement and he must not allow obstructionist tactics to further delay long overdue progress on policing and justice.
“No other approach is acceptable from the British government. And no other approach is acceptable to Sinn Féin.”