Page last updated at 17:46 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 18:46 UK

NI justice ministry step closer

Police officer outside cout
The assembly agreed the legislation devolving policing and justice

Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive has taken another step towards creating a justice department.

The executive agreed new legislation on the issue on Thursday, to go before the assembly in the autumn.

It would lead to the creation of a department of justice and a new minister by cross-community vote.

However, SDLP minister Margaret Ritchie accused the DUP and Sinn Fein of abusing power-sharing and cutting her party out of the job.

She said the means of picking a minister was a departure from the Good Friday Agreement, which outlined selection by party strength.

"What I am surprised at is the position of (Deputy First Minister) Martin McGuinness because he has acquiesced to the position of the DUP by allowing that no nationalist will be eligible for this position and no nationalist in Northern Ireland will be the justice minister for this country," she said.

'Interim'

Speaking afterwards Sinn Fein junior minister Gerry Kelly dismissed her complaint, saying the ministry was open to any assembly member, except from the DUP or Sinn Fein.

He said it was good news that the devolution of policing and justice powers was progressing.

"What we want is an agreed minister in the interim to move that forward," he said.

"That is what all this is about. Martin McGuinness is on record that we want a nationalist justice minister."

It is still not clear when power will be transferred.

The DUP MP Sammy Wilson has questioned whether the Government is serious about providing the funding needed for the devolution of policing and justice.

He said the DUP believed there was little point in more talks with Downing Street unless progress is made soon.

Earlier this month the Prime Minister agreed a process to address financial issues, with the intention of agreeing a funding package by September.

Mr Wilson said: "Despite many months of detailed discussions on how justice would be financed, there is still no sign that the Government is serious about providing the necessary funding.

Academic

"There should be no doubt that unless this matter is resolved, it would be impossible to devolve the functions.

"Indeed, while the Government maintains its present position on the matter, discussion about the devolution of policing and justice functions will remain academic."

He added: "We have approached these negotiations with the Government in good faith but without serious engagement on their part there is little point in our continuing with these discussions and we will have to consider our future approach on this matter in the coming days."

Mr Wilson, nevertheless, welcomed the discussion of the draft legislation and said his party was content it had sufficient control over the creation of the new ministry.

First Minister Peter Robinson had been expected to clear the way for a discussion of the enabling legislation on 9 July and was criticised at the time by Sinn Fein when the matter was delayed.

But Mr Robinson said he wanted to give ministers sufficient time to study the legislation.



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SEE ALSO
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07 Jul 09 |  Northern Ireland
'No budget' for policing transfer
01 Jul 09 |  Northern Ireland


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