I believe that policing and justice should have been devolved many years ago. The devolution of policing and justice is important because it is seen by many, inside and outside Northern Ireland, as the next stage in moving to a normal, democratic society.The Green Party has always supported a devolved local Assembly, because we feel that that is the only way to deal with the major social and economic issues facing the people of Northern Ireland. Deadlock over policing has threatened the institutions, and the people of Northern Ireland have a right to expect more responsible behaviour from their politicians than they have seen.
This debate has extended over many months, and, at times, has descended into farce, with Prime Ministersjetting in and out of Belfast, and politicians from across the globe phoning our political leaders at all times of the day and night. Although all political parties profess to support the devolution of policing, some of them seem to be going out of their way to find reasons why they should not. Anything less than an overwhelming vote in favour of the motion will seriously undermine the credibility of the Assembly.
The credibility of the Assembly has been seriously eroded in the past year. The people want the Assembly to work, but they see it gridlocked on virtually every issue. Some Members pointed out that there is public concern about the Assembly’s failure to deliver and its perceived inability to make difficult decisions. Instead of political leaders trying to reach agreement, politics has been reduced to the traditional zero-sum game. Every issue is presented in such a way that there must be a clear winner and loser, leaving no room for compromise. Instead of looking for a win-win situation in which all parties gain and therefore increase confidence in all sides of the community, there appears to be more value placed on defeating political rivals than on good governance. The devolution of policing and justice is a win-win situation. All parties profess to agree that it needs to happen and that it has widespread public support, so why do the Ulster Unionists seem to be so keen to reject it?
The long debate on policing and justice has been littered with red herrings as various factions try to undermine it. First, it was the condition of resolving the parading issue. Did anyone seriously believe that the parading issue, which has bedevilled the country for more than 200 years, could be resolved in a few days? That was a deliberate attempt to prevent an agreement. However, the most cynical and petty attempt to disrupt progress was to introduce the 11-plus as a precondition. Although we all want the 11-plus mess to be resolved, no one could seriously have expected it to be resolved in that timescale.
Members of the Ulster Unionist Party have tried to portray themselves as macho men who will not be bullied by Woodward, Cameron, Brown, Bush or Clinton. [Interruption.] In fact, they are not macho. They are seen as ineffective, and their decision to oppose the devolution of policing and justice powers is another kick in the teeth for the ordinary unionist voter in north Down who wants the Assembly to succeed.
The discussion goes beyond policing and justice. Resolution of this issue will be a sign that the two main parties can reach agreement on a major issue, and it will provide hope for further progress on issues such as the economy, education and health. That is a positive feature that can be built on.
I have been active in Northern Ireland politics for more than 40 years, and throughout that time I have always campaigned for a devolved government that is based on power sharing. Therefore, I strongly supported theBelfast Agreement and felt that it was a major step towards full power sharing devolution. That devolution was to evolve and was to include the devolution of policing and justice powers. Unfortunately, over the past few years, gridlock and stagnation have blighted that evolution. The vacuum that was created by stagnation has been filled by cynicism, dissident republicans and the TUV. Today’s motion is an opportunity to get Northern Ireland back on track, to dispel cynicism and to undermine dissident republicans and the TUV. We have reached a level of political maturity. The motion reinforces the Belfast Agreement, and therefore, I support the motion.