Alliance Party Justice Spokesperson, Stephen Farry, has argued that the British Government should take great care in devolving policing and criminal justice responsibilities to the Executive, and called for a two-year target to be established, with a triple-lock of tests to be passed before the formal transfer of powers should take place. Earlier this week, the SDLP called for a firm timetable of 18 months to be introduced.
Dr Farry stated:
“There is considerable demand for the devolution of policing and criminal justice. In many respects, it is the last remaining element in creating genuine cross-community ownership of policing by local people. Yet, there is great apprehension about entrusting untried and tested politicians with the public’s security.
“If devolution of these powers is to succeed, it should be done right, and without undue haste.
“Alliance believes that a target date of two years should be established as part of any deal between the parties and the governments. Devolution of these responsibilities should not be driven by arbitrary deadlines, but the presence of the correct political conditions to allow the transfer to occur safely.
“It is important not to overload the new Executive in its early days. Rows over policing and justice could very easily destroy a very fragile base. People will want the assurance that the devolved Executive is capable of exercising these powers responsibly. Crucially, a window of two years will allow the Executive to prove itself through two marching seasons.
“In the interim, the British Government could proceed to draft and pass legislation to enable the devolution of policing and criminal justice to take place if the right conditions are in place.
“This legislation should not come into effect until a number of conditions are met, which should be defined within it. The Secretary of State would be required to certify that the Assembly has passed a resolution on a cross-community basis requesting the devolution of the relevant powers.
“He would further certify that in his or her opinion the appropriate conditions of stability, collective responsibility and accountability had been met within the devolved structures. Any formal devolution of powers would then be subject to an affirmative resolution in both houses of parliament – the ‘triple lock’.
“Alliance has already made these proposals to the Prime Minister.”