Michael Bower commented “The devolution of policing and justice powers is a major milestone in the process of normalising politics in Northern Ireland. We now have a full-time, locally accountable Minister who is able to make decisions appropriate for our specific context. This will be a huge contrast to the approach of previous part-time direct-rule ministers who had little knowledge of our local system and had no accountability to the people of Northern Ireland.
“I am delighted that my Party Leader David Ford received the necessary cross-community support to become that Minister. I know that David will be a strong Minister who will represent the entire Northern Irish community. Alliance have a clear policy programme which will involve tackling the reasons for offending, better rehabilitation of offenders to reduce reoffending rates, improving the speed of justice by tackling avoidable delay in the system and the creation of a Sentencing Guidelines Council to ensure that punishments fit the crime committed and that there is a consistency in awarding sentences.
“I am well aware that many did not feel that Alliance was entitled to this post, indeed the Alliance Party has never claimed such an entitlement. However Alliance was prepared to play a constructive role in that it was the only Party from which a potential Minister was able to achieve the necessary cross-community support to allow devolution to take place. We had two preconditions that had to be met before we felt we could nominate a Minister: One, there needed to be agreement on the policy programme that a Minister could implement to ensure that a Justice Minister would not be a lame-duck and that stand-off situations such as the post-primary transfer situation could not occur; and two, movement on a shared future strategy to ensure that the Executive was committed to moving Northern Ireland beyond a two-community mentality. Both conditions have been met in that the First and deputy First Ministers agreed to the policy programme put on the table by the Alliance Party and agreed to publish the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy which had been shelved for the last three years.
“However whatever disagreement there has been between the parties over whether or not justice powers should have been devolved or who should have been the Minister, we all need to unite to tackle the treat posed by dissident Republicans. The car bomb on Monday night in Holywood was a harsh reminder about the threat that the dissidents pose and the enormity of the task that the Minister for Justice faces in tackling them. We need to provide a united front and support David Ford in standing up to these people whose only desire is to see a return to the days of murder and bloodshed. The devolution of justice powers is a threat to these people as it helps bring about a normalised political system and a Northern Ireland based on partnership and sharing. The dissidents thrive off fear, sectarianism and political instability.
“We owe it to the people and to the future generations to make this work.”