Sunday, 7 February 2010

How closely linked are devolution of Policing and Justice and Parades?

Now it’s time for a few brief observations on the Hillsborough Agreement:

Devolution of Policing and Justice will start with a resolution in the Assembly on 9 March, leading to devolution of powers by 12 April - section 1.

The parading timetable (section 2) requires the parading working group to report agreed outcomes by 23 February, and a sequenced legislative timetable. This is a very tight timescale.

What happens if the working group can’t agree by 23 Feb, and still hasn’t agreed by 9 March? Will the resolution to start the ball rolling on devolution of Policing and Justice still go ahead? Even if Feb 23/9 March goes ok, the ‘Agreement’ sets out two timetables running for most of the next year, so such problems could recur.

I am sure the DUP take the view that the two sections of the agreement are inextricably linked. This is a political document; not a legal one. The absence of explicit linkage between sections one and two might be important in a legal document, but not in a political one.

But I recall that there were two timetables in the Belfast Agreement –decommissioning within a two year time frame, and prisoner releases, also within a two year time frame. David tried to link them together, yet the government and virtually everyone else said there was to be no linkage, and prisoner releases went ahead without decommissioning within the agreed timetable.

If the DUP try to link the two timetables, what will happen? Will the same happen again? Will devolution of policing and justice proceed even if there is no agreement on parading?

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