What price transfer of policing and justice powers?

4 12 2007

The Assembly and Executive Review Committee is tasked with deliberating on issues surrounding the transfer of policing and justice powers. Fair enough, but that’s not to say that the Finance Department won’t be publicising its own deliberations on the matter.

Peter Weir asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel if he will make a statement on the financial implications of the transfer of policing and justice powers.

Peter Robinson replied:

‘The financial implications of the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Executive will form an important strand of the negotiations on the devolution of these functions.

‘A key issue must be that the funding mechanism for the transfer must have no negative implications for the funding available for other devolved services, either in the short or long term.

‘A satisfactory resolution of all matters concerned must be reached before the powers will be devolved.’

So the transfer isn’t condition-led based on commuity confidence, it’s DFP-led. Unionist confidence may well exist, but even if it does, transfer won’t take place because Peter can’t pay/won’t pay. Unionist confidence is not decisive, the consideration of DFP is.

So where’s Peter going with this? The Scottish Justice Department has a budget of over £1bn for this coming year. (It’s a crude method of comparison, but with approximately three times our population…) It’s not unreasonable to consider that a Justice Department here could cost around £350 million a year. And how long is ‘long term’? Five years? 10 years? A range of £1.5bn to £3.5bn?

Is refusal to pay another negotiation’s bluff from the DUP? Would the Treasury really agree to fit the bill?

Well, the NI/US Investment Conference is planned for May next year – around the same time as the proposed transfer of policing and justice powers. Devolving these powers prior to the conference would be an act of completion for the Peace Process™ and allow an embattled Gordon Brown to take sole ownership, curtainfall and final applause.

Maybe the Treasury could be persuaded that funding a justice department and securing the devolved transfer of powers is an investment in getting Northern Ireland to finally bugger off. It’s not unfeasible.

And because political reps did so badly in negotiating a package the first time round, playing pauper is now a credible position for Peter. After all, the draft budget doesn’t contain oodles of new money. Up to £700 million of indicative spending in 2011 is predicated on efficiencies of 3% across government.

Peter may be attempting – and not for the first time – to wring £1.5bn and upwards from the Treasury. Win or lose, by challenging the Treasury, Peter grows the influence of his department. If he succeeds in transforming policing and justice into a finance issue, Peter supersedes the DUP as hinge for Unionist decision-making and the Executive & Assembly as final arbiter on the issue. And if DFP holds up the transfer for policing powers, following after the Margaret Ritchie debacle, a nationalist looking at that department might write it off as a Unionist centrifuge – that is, various views and information go in but only Unionist decisions come out.

This government is about power division and not power-sharing. Most useful thing David Ford ever said.

PS. It appears no one in OFMDFM seems interested enough to bother replying to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee on such trifling matters as: appointment of the Attorney General; number of Departments/Ministers; and responsibility for the Public Prosecution Service.

Is OFMDFM’s silence on policing and justice similar to OFMDFM’s silence on the Victims Commissioner? Amid all the chuckling are Paisley and McGuinness in disagreement over this as well?

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