Page last updated at 07:32 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

Timeline: Devolution of policing and justice

Police patrol
A deal on policing and justice powers has finally been reached

Devolution of policing and justice powers in Northern Ireland have been under discussion for over a decade. BBC News Online outlines the main events in what has been called "the final piece of the devolution jigsaw".

April 1998: The Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998, said the powers would be devolved at some point in the future with the approval of the political parties. The parties also agreed to the setting up of independent commissions which would led to major reforms of the police and criminal justice system.

September 1999: The Patten report on the future of policing in Northern Ireland recommends major changes to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The Patten report made 175 recommendations, including the name being changed. Other recommendations were the setting up of a Policing Board, tasked with holding the police to account and a Police Ombudsman to investigate complaints.

2000 - 2006: Difficulties remain over major issues including decommissioning which lead to devolution being restored and suspended on a number of occasions. The issue of policing and justice remains in the background as the NI parties and the two governments try to resolve the deadlock.

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern
The St Andrews Agreement came up with a devolution roadmap

11 October 2006:

Three days of intensive multi-party talks, aimed at brokering a deal to restore devolution, begin at St Andrews in Scotland. Prime Minister Tony Blair says there is a political will to make devolution work. Subsequently, the Northern Ireland parties are given until 10 November to respond to what the governments call the St Andrews Agreement.

13 October 2006: A roadmap to restore devolution to Northern Ireland is unveiled by the British and Irish governments. It contains a target date of 26 March 2007 for a new executive to be up and running. All parties must agree to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland with a view to Stormont taking control of policing by May 2008. Crucially, the DUP said it was an aspirational date to which they were not committed.

28 January 2007: Sinn Fein votes to support the police in Northern Ireland for the first time in the party's history. About 900 party members voted on the motion at a special party conference (Ard Fheis) in Dublin, which is carried by over 90%.

7 March 2007: Northern Ireland goes to the polls to elect candidates to the Assembly. The DUP are the largest party, winning 36 of the 108 seats. Sinn Fein take 28. The UUP win 18, the SDLP 16, and the Alliance Party seven.

24 March 2007: The DUP's ruling executive decides it will share power with Sinn Fein, and agrees to nominate ministers to a Stormont executive. The British and Irish governments had threatened to suspend plans for devolution if agreement could not be reached.

26 March 2007: Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams tell a news conference in Stormont that power-sharing will return to Northern Ireland on 8 May.

8 May 2007: Direct rule over Northern Ireland by Westminster officially ends after almost five years. DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness are sworn in as First and Deputy First Ministers.

Martin McGuinness at January 2007 ard fheis
Martin McGuinness proposed the motion on policing at Sinn Fein's ard fheis

31 May 2007: Sinn Fein takes its seats on the Policing Board for the first time.

24 December 2007: The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, says that the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to the Stormont assembly must be a priority in 2008.

24 February 2008: The DUP says the devolution of policing and justice powers will not happen by May - the target date set in the St Andrew's Agreement. The party says there is not yet "adequate public confidence", and the party will not be rushed.

11 March 2008: The Stormont committee which examines progress on devolution of policing and justice powers reported that agreement had failed to be reached on when it should happen. The Assembly and Executive Review Committee says the government's May target for transferring the powers cannot be met, and recommends that political parties engage in further discussion.

5 June 2008: Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are appointed first and deputy first ministers of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Mr Robinson was nominated by former DUP leader Ian Paisley and Mr McGuinness by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

16 September 2009: The prime minister calls on Northern Ireland's political leaders to set a date for the transfer of policing and justice powers. Gordon Brown argues that the Assembly could not address issues such as youth disorder unless they were responsible for the "levers of change".

21 October 2009: Prime Minister Gordon Brown publishes budget proposals for the devolution of policing and justice. He says he had written to the party leaders outlining the budget, believed to be in the region of £800m-1bn.

Department of Justice Bill: From BBC Democracy Live

1 December 2009: A bill paving the way for the devolution of policing and justice in the future passes its final stage in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The bill creates a justice department and allows a justice minister to be appointed with cross-community backing.

4 December 2009: Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson of the DUP rejects Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein's Christmas deadline to resolve their differences on policing and justice devolution. Mr McGuinness, who is deputy first minister, warned of an impending "full-blown crisis" in Stormont.

7 January: Senior DUP figure Lord Morrow says he does not envisage devolution in the lifetime of the current assembly.

11 January: DUP leader Peter Robinson announces he is to temporarily step down as Northern Ireland First Minister amid a political storm over his wife's private life and financial affairs. Remaining as DUP leader, he makes clear that he will continue to lead the devolution negotiations.

12 January 2010: The crisis surrounding Mr Robinson appears to inject fresh momentum into the devolution issue. Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster takes over as acting first minister while her party leader tries to clear his name.

Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen
The British and Irish PMs mediated in crunch talks at Hillsborough

13 January 2010:

The DUP and Sinn Fein are working to fit "the last piece in the jigsaw" to resolve the policing deadlock, acting first minister Arlene Foster says. Intensive talks continue about moving policing and justice powers from London to Belfast. NI Secretary Shaun Woodward has urged unionists to reach a deal.

16 January: Peter Robinson briefs party colleagues on progress of negotiations.

17 January: Senior DUP, Ulster Unionist and Conservative politicians hold secret talks in England about establishing greater pro-union co-operation in Northern Ireland. The meeting could open the way for a potential electoral pact, or even merger, in the future.

21 January: Acting First Minister Arlene Foster calls on the governments to break the deadlock in talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein on devolving justice powers. She said "facilitation" would allow "a light to be shone on it all, because we certainly know what we have been doing over the last number of days". Sinn Fein's Mary-Lou McDonald says the DUP had "not yet indicated they were ready to meet their commitments".

22 January: DUP leader Peter Robinson says he was "surprised" at Sinn Fein announcing the end of their current round of talks on devolving justice powers. Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey said the party's leadership meeting in Dublin on Saturday would map the way forward. Mr Robinson said: "Anyone who steps away from the table at this stage endangers the whole process."

23 January: Sinn Fein's leadership discusses its next move after intense negotiations with the DUP ended. Its ruling executive meets in Dublin.

25/26 January: Mr McGuinness and Mr Robinson meet at Stormont for less than an hour, breaking up without progress. After holding talks at Downing Street, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Irish Premier Brian Cowen announce that they are flying to Northern Ireland to meet the leaders. The two governments convene the talks summit at Hillsborough Castle insisting that progress can be made. Late night negotiations eventually break up at 0300 GMT without agreement.

26/27 January: Mr Brown and Mr Cowen meet delegations from all the region's main parties. Draft proposals on resolving the logjam are shuttled between party rooms through the day. A round table meeting involving all the parties is chaired by the two premiers. Despite this outward sign of progress, a final solution is apparently no closer, with the issues of contentious parades still proving problematic. The marathon exchanges last even longer than the night before, finally breaking up after 0500 GMT with both Mr Brown and Mr Cowen announcing their intention to remain at Hillsborough for another round of negotiations.

27 January: The British and Irish premiers leave talks on devolving policing and justice in NI without a deal. The parties have been given another 48 hours to reach an agreement before the British and Irish prime governments publish their own proposals for the devolution of policing and justice. Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness says he was "deeply disappointed" no deal had been reached. Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted there was a still a "prospect of a reasonable agreement" within the next two days.

29 January: The prime ministers' 48 hour deadline expires without incident. Talks between the parties continue into the early hours of the following morning, with the leaders of both Sinn Fein and the DUP indicating they were still working hard to resolve outstanding issues.

1 February: The marathon talks enter a second week.

4 February: After ten days of intense negotiations, the DUP says it has agreed a deal with Sinn Fein over the devolution of policing and justice powers from Westminster to Northern Ireland. Party leader Peter Robinson said just before midnight that the decision to back the deal had been "unanimous" among the party's 35 assembly members. Sinn Fein welcomed the decision.



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