Deireadh Fómhair 5 2009
Happy birthday to me
This blog is living the last day of my sixtieth year. Tomorrow I will be sixty one. Sixty one is a very good age to be. I am looking forward to it.
That I am spending a great part of the last day of my sixtieth year in the company of the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and sundry support staff – his, not ours – is a sign that I have not yet given up on the Democratic Unionist Party. They may or may not believe me but I hope they appreciate the time I am sacrificing for them and for the public good.
Having said that it is my certain view that stalling by the DUP on the transfer of policing and justice powers – the reason for Mr Brown’s visitation - is without logic or rationale for anyone outside DUPland.
The DUP position is contradictory and confused. Indeed a survey of recent DUP statements on this issue shows this to be the case.
As a result the transfer of policing and justice powers has become a political football within unionism. The unionist parties are now cynically vying with each other as they seek to win a tactical advantage over political opponents.
The financial arrangements are crucially important and Sinn Féin has consistently demanded and is demanding adequate and sustained funding by the British government for the transfer of powers and the running of a government department.
Positive leadership can secure an acceptable financial arrangement and create the conditions for the speedy transfer of powers. This in turn will restore confidence in the political institutions and provide a positive climate for inward investment and the necessary fight back on the economy.
A failure by the DUP to deliver on this issue will be a failure for their political leadership. It will encourage their political rivals in the TUV and UUP to set the political agenda for unionism.
These parties, especially the DUP and the UUP – which proclaim themselves as law and order parties – need to reflect on the importance of policing and justice to society.
In my view the political institutions and particularly the Assembly and the Executive should be about ensuring a democratically accountable, efficient and effective policing and justice system. We need to reassure communities which are deeply anxious about public safety issues. We need to protect families, senior citizens and other vulnerable people who concerned about safety in their homes.
Political parties need to be about creating the conditions which tackle crime and the causes of crime. We need to protect the victims of crime while guaranteeing that criminals will be pursued relentlessly and successfully within the law.
All the political parties have agreed to construct local policing and justice arrangements to achieve this.
Recent years has seen significant progress made on most of this. But the key development necessary to lock down the reforms that have been made, to ensure democratic accountability and build on the changes that have occurred, is the transfer of powers on policing and justice. This includes a locally accountable minister to make informed decisions based on local experience and need.
The police support the transfer of policing and justice powers.
Last year the DUP agreed a process which would deliver this. But until now the necessary political will to complete that process has been absent.
The old Stormont system was brought down 37 years ago because the Unionists walked out when the British removed policing and justice powers. Now when everything is in place to take these powers back from London it is the unionist parties, and especially a devolutionist party, who are resisting this.
The irony of this should not be lost on unionist grassroots. It is certainly not lost on the rest of us. In drawing attention to this huge contradiction this blog is not trying to score a political point. The issue is too important for that.
The only point in being in public office is to get things done. We have a duty not to disappoint those who depend on us to make society better, fairer and safer for them. Whether the DUP is up for this will become clear in the next short period. In the meantime Happy Birthday to me.