The UUP released its ‘Putting Things Right’ statement today, which sets out criticisms of the DUP / Sinn Féin coalition’s management of devolved finances and envisages how the position in Northern Ireland might be improved.
A section deals with policing and justice. Its contents have been picked up by the BBC which reports that Ulster Unionists are now seeking ‘a five year financial testing period’ before policing and justice powers can be devolved.
Reacting, no doubt, to the BBC’s story, as opposed to the original text, Alex Attwood (SDLP) blundered in with knee wildly a-jerking, alleging that the UUP has vetoed devolution.
“When Peter Robinson said on July 7 that all the party leaders in the Assembly would have to agree on community confidence before devolution of justice powers occurred he was sharing his veto over the timing of that devolution with the UUP. Today the UUP has given its response. The UUP will find it hard to pull back from this and Peter Robinson's view appears to be that he won't jump without the UUP.”
The following passage created all the excitement.
“Given past performance, there must also be serious questions over the ability of DUP-Sinn Fein to negotiate a proper financial package to support the devolution of policing and justice. Any financial package for the transfer of policing and justice powers needs to be rigorously tested for its financial sustainability, risk management and contingency planning against potential shortfalls and it should be rolled out over a five year period initially being funded entirely by Westminster. Only then, on the basis of the outcomes of this five year period, should it be fully transferred. Clear, robust guarantees must be given that Westminster will not allow the Northern Ireland budget to suffer in the event of additional demands on policing, such as those created by civil disorder. Only on this basis can we responsibly consider the devolution of policing and justice.”
A cautious statement, certainly, which correctly implies that not devolving policing and justice would be preferable to devolving it, partially funded. But, also, very explicitly a statement which anticipates devolution happening and is concerned with the funding which will follow it.