What is next to be given to the Northern Ireland executive at Stormont?
Justice and policing?
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams hopes so, in his Christmas and New Year message he wrote:
There remain other vital areas of work to be completed around the Good Friday Agreement – specifically in the areas of the Bill of Rights; equality; the Irish Language, the north-south bodies and the transfer of power on policing and justice.
This last bit is rather novel – to say the least – as Sinn Fein historically did not recognise the legitimacy of the police force in Northern Ireland.
From the British government, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Shaun Woodward responded positively to the suggestion that the transfer of policing and justice will take place within the coming months:
In his New Year message, Mr Woodward said the government stood ready to devolve the remaining powers in May.
He said 2007 had been a momentous year and local people expected politicians to “finish the job”.
The Church of Ireland is not too happy about the Bill of Rights idea, if it’s official magazine is to be believed:
In an editorial, it said there was “an astounding lack of clarity” over why such a bill was needed.
The Church of Ireland Gazette said there was a political agenda behind seeking a bill which was undemocratic and unacceptable.
It said any Bill of Rights should refer to the entire UK.
“There are those in the Stormont establishment who want a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, as opposed to the UK as a whole, because they want Northern Ireland to relate more closely to the Republic of Ireland than to the rest of the UK,” it said.
Now I realise that Northern Ireland’s devolution is not the same as that of Scotland and Wales – but if we can connect the processes they point in the same direction…
If the Northern Ireland assembly can have justice and policing powers, the SNP will say, why can’t the Scottish government have more powers over the police in Scotland?
Fresh from his rows with the UK government over the British Transport Police’s use of racial profiling and the use of anti-terrorism legislation, the SNP’s Kenny MacAskill has been calling for police reform:
He called for an end to the need for vehicle inspection officers carrying out roadside checks in Scotland to be accompanied by police officers.
He wrote to the UK Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly on the issue in October.
He said that while she had told him such powers could be extended to Scotland, she could not “make any definite promise as to when this will be”.
Mr MacAskill now wants Ms Kelly to agree an urgent timescale for giving inspectors from the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) the power to stop vehicles themselves – as they already have in England and Wales.
He said if that did not happen, UK ministers should devolve the powers to Scotland to allow this.
The justice secretary claimed that ending the requirement for police officers to accompany vehicle inspection officers could free up hundreds of days of police time.
All very polite this time…
And recall the SNP have backdated police pay, something the British government refuses to do, despite the Police Federation’s olive branches.