Irish Republican News · June 4, 2007
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Assembly debates policing powers
Assembly debates policing powers

The policing Oversight Commissioner in the North, publishing his final report on the conversion of the RUC police to the PSNI, has warned that real change could be over a decade away.

Fewer high ranking Catholics serve in the PSNI than during the old RUC regime’s last days, his report has revealed.

Departing Oversight Commissioner Al Hutchinson, the man charged with monitoring reforms to the RUC, warned that little effort was being made to ease the religious imbalance.

However, in his final assessment, Mr Hutchinson said the future was bright with major changes completed and public trust growing.

Of the many milestones on the road to police reform, he said Sinn Féin’s decision to support the PSNI was the most important. As a consequence to its historic decision earlier this year, the party took up its seats on the Policing Board for the first time on Thursday.

DEVOLUTION

But Mr Hutchinson has said the transfer of policing and justice powers from London to the Belfast Assembly will prove to be a “much more significant event”.

In the Assembly today, the Ulster Unionist Party led an attempt to block the move, which Sinn Féin has said is essential to its support for the PSNI.

UUP Assembly member David Burnside claimed there was no public demand for a local minister in charge of policing and justice, and suggested the move could not go ahead while the PSNI are still investigating the Northern Bank robbery of December 2004.

Mr Burnside asked: “Why is this motion being brought before the house at this early stage when there’s no demand from the community for the transfer of justice and policing and there still is a criminal investigation into the Northern Bank robbery carried out by the republican movement Sinn Féin/IRA?”

Following a vote, it was decided by all parties that an Assembly committee chaired by DUP man Jeffrey Donaldson will consider the issue and report back to the full chamber by the end of next month.

His party colleague, Finance Minister Peter Robinson, said it could be “several political lifetimes” before there was the community confidence to have policing and justice powers devolved to Belfast because of “the rate Sinn Féin are going”.

Sinn Féin Policing spokesman Alex Maskey welcomed the decision to set up a committee.

“Sinn Féin objectives have always been for legislation to enable transfer of powers away from Britain and into Ireland; for agreement on the time-frame and the detail of powers to be transferred and agreement on the model for a justice department.”

© 2007 Irish Republican News