And so it is finally here…
Today policing and justice powers are devolved to Stormont, with David Ford expected to be the new Minister for Justice. The issue of policing and justice have long been touch-stone issues in Northern Ireland so today is truly a remarkable day. Much of the focus of discussion in the Northern Ireland criminal justice system has been on policing – given the role of the RUC throughout the Troubles this is understandable. However, other parts of the criminal justice system have not been subject to the same scrutiny. The prison system is one example of an area in need of critical attention.
John Taylor, the former (and last) Minister for Home Affairs before Direct Rule was implemented in 1972 has given some advice to the incoming Justice Minister.
There are still many divisions, sectarian and otherwise and you have to tread very carefully indeed.
So the new Minister will have a great deal to attend to in his new role. Last week, Peter Robinson, First Minister provided an indication of the administration’s priorities in this respect. For the moment funding for policing is secured following the sweeteners added to secure the final deal. However, the level of funding afforded to the Northern Ireland system will not continue indefinitely.
Robinson has talked about DUP priorities in dealing with sentencing policy and ‘anti-social’ behaviour:
Devolution will enable a solution made in Northern Ireland to tackle the ‘bread and butter’ issue of anti-social behaviour.
Robinson has further pledged to enact legislation to ‘tackle disturbances in sports grounds’ and changes to fire-arms regulations to enable participation in sports competitions.
Some would argue that these are an odd list of priorities – however, time will tell what devolution will bring.
One wonders how the new Minister will respond to this mornings bomb attack at Palace Barracks. I know some people in Belfast (I’m speaking in terms of my own friends etc) feel there should be a greater army presence given the spate of attacks, or attempts of late. I’m not sure I agree with that.