British government draft guidelines for community restorative justice schemes in the North have been given a mixed welcome by northern nationalists.

State funded and supervised justice schemes are seen as a means of integrating marginalised republican communities with traditional policing and justice structures in the North of Ireland.

The British government’s draft proposals on dealing with low-level offenders in local communities allow for police to be informed directly or indirectly of a request to deal with a case within the community.

The CRJ schemes would be unable to receive public funding without agreeing to the final guidelines, which are scheduled to be published next spring.

The draft guidelines will now be subject to a three-month period of public consultation.

CRJ Ireland spokesman Noel McCartney welcomed the draft guidelines as “a basis for moving forward”.

“We have been discussing these matters with the government for the last couple of years and we know negotiations will continue. However, we will not be able to actually implement agreed arrangements until there is an overall political settlement on policing.

“It is an objective fact that, at the present time, a large majority of the people in the areas in which we work are opposed to active engagement with the Police Service of Northern Ireland,” Mr McCartney said.

However, after speaking after meeting Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Dublin, SDLP leader Mark Durkan attacked the British government’s guidelines.

“We are profoundly concerned about the absence of standards, rights and safeguards in the government’s proposals,” Mr Durkan declared outside Government Buildings.

Sinn Féin policing spokesman Gerry Kelly said republicans did not regard community restorative justice as “an alternative to a policing service”.

“It never has been nor pretended to be. Indeed Lord Clyde the Justice Oversight Commissioner recently praised the CRJ schemes operating here and reported that 80% of their work relates to community and neighbourhood disputes which are nothing to do with the formal Criminal Justice system.”

Mr Kelly said “the recently found SDLP opposition” to Community Restorative Justice and “the myths which they continue to peddle” in the media had nothing to do with these schemes or the way they operate.

“These schemes have been operating successfully in the north since 1999 and we have not heard this hysterical opposition before now.

“The SDLP opposition is based upon a need to prevent further necessary policing changes to justify their flawed decision to jump too early onto policing. The SDLP and Policing Board would be far better off supporting a community based scheme which is working and has impacted positively in hundreds of cases rather than attempting to prevent further policing and justice change in order to justify their own political view.”

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