Ulster policing breakthrough

Northern Ireland’s political parties ended a 22-week stand-off on Tuesday by agreeing to assume ministerial responsibility for policing and justice.

The issue had prevented the province’s power-sharing executive from meeting since early June.

Peter Robinson, first minister and leader of the Democratic Unionists, and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin, the deputy first minister, announced the breakthrough at Stormont, paving the way for the executive to meet on Thursday.

Mr Robinson told reporters: “We believe these agreements are capable of gaining the confidence of the community.”

But he said local parties were now “looking to the prime minister to make good his commitment of helping to resolve the financial arrangements relating to the devolution of these powers”.

Gordon Brown said: “This is the last building block in the process for bringing peace and democracy to Northern Ireland.”

The deal is seen as the last piece in the jigsaw of the Northern Ireland political settlement, first outlined in 1998 under the Good Friday agreement and concluded at all-party talks in St Andrews, Scotland in 2006.

The agreement envisages a new minister for policing and justice being appointed by a vote of the full assembly. It includes a provision that a majority of both unionist and nationalist deputies would have to back the nominee.

All other portfolios in the four-party executive are assigned according to party strengths in the assembly – under the so-called d’Hondt mechanism. No date has been set for the necessary legislative powers to be transferred from Westminster, although both party leaders wanted devolution to take place “without undue delay”.

Government officials indicated that they expected it to take place before September .

The mechanism agreed means that both parties have a veto over who is chosen, a provision aimed at meeting DUP concerns that Sinn Féin, because of its past links with the IRA, should be barred from taking such a politically sensitive post. However, both parties agreed that these provisions would expire in May 2012.

The non-sectarian Alliance party, which is currently not represented in the executive, is likely to be asked to take the portfolio for the present assembly term.

In a further hopeful sign, the parties said they were “minded” to appoint John Larkin, a Roman Catholic barrister who has acted in the past for the DUP, as the new Northern Ireland attorney-general, the province’s leading law officer.

The British and Irish governments both said the deal vindicated their decision to let the local parties resolve their differences. But analysts said the DUP and Sinn Féin responded to growing public impatience at the stalemate, amid fears the impasse could force London to call fresh elections.

Peter Robinson, first minister and leader of the Democratic Unionists, and the nationalist deputy first minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin announced the breakthrough at Stormont on Tuesday, paving the way for the executive to meet on Thursday.

Brian Cowen, the Irish Republic prime minister, welcomed the deal, which he said was the last piece in the jigsaw of the Northern Ireland political settlement, first outlined in 1998 under the Good Friday agreement and concluded at all party talks in St Andrews in Scotland in 2006.

The agreement envisages a new minister of policing and justice will be appointed by a vote of the full assembly, including a provision that a majority of both unionist and nationalist deputies would have to back the nominee. All other portfolios in the four party executive are assigned according to party strengths in the assembly – under the so-called d’hondt mechanism.

No date has been for the necessary legislative powers to be transferred from Westminster, although both party leaders said they wanted devolution to take place “without undue delay”.

Government officials indicated they expected it to take place before next September.

he mechanism agreed means both parties have a veto who is chosen, a provision aimed at meeting DUP concerns that Sinn Féin, the IRA’s political wing, are not able to take the position. However, both sides also agreed these provisions would expire in May 2012.

As a compromise solution, the non-sectarian Alliance party, which is currently not represented in the executive, is likely to be asked to take the portfolio for the present assembly term. In a further hopeful sign, the parties said they were “minded” to appoint John Larkin, a well known local Roman Catholic barrister who has acted in the past for the DUP, as the new Northern Ireland attorney-general, the province’s leading law officer.

The British and Irish governments both said Tuesday’s deal vindicated their decision to let the local parties resolve their differences. But analysts say both parties responded to growing public impatience at the stalemate, amid fears the ongoing impasse could force London to call fresh elections to break the deadlock.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.