Page last updated at 20:48 GMT, Friday, 5 March 2010

UUP doubt over devolving justice powers to Stormont

Sir Reg Empey has put forward a document for other parties to consider

The Ulster Unionist Party has said it is not in a position at this stage to support the devolution of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland.

Leader Sir Reg Empey said members would make a final decision on Monday night, a day before a vote in the Assembly.

Assembly members vote on Tuesday on whether to accept a devolution package.

Secretary of State Shaun Woodward said the cross-community vote would be "nothing less than a vote for the future of Northern Ireland".

Speaking in Edinburgh University on Friday, Mr Woodward said: "The responsibility on all MLAs next Tuesday cannot be overestimated.

"By voting to complete devolution they will be doing so much more that voting for the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to Stormont, important as that is.

"They will be voting for the hopes and aspirations of future generations who do not want to relive the past."

The UUP has tabled a document to other parties outlining how the Hillsborough Agreement could be improved.

DUP First Minister Peter Robinson said it would be "a massive mistake" for any politician not to back the deal.

The UUP has been refusing to endorse the Hillsborough Agreement, insisting that matters such as education, parading and "the dysfunctional nature of the current Executive" must be addressed.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have enough Assembly members to ensure the required cross-community vote is passed at Stormont on Tuesday.

'Duress'

Sir Reg said the Executive "must be capable of exercising its existing powers before such an important issue as policing and justice is devolved".

"At the outset of this process we pointed out that no negotiations should take place under duress and that they should be inclusive - regrettably these conditions were not met," he said.

Sir Reg said the assembly would not exist if the UUP had waited for the DUP to get on board when it was the majority party.

"If you do a deal and you believe in it, you follow that through," he said.

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness accused Sir Reg of showing "a dismal failure of leadership".

Earlier on Friday, Mr Robinson told a business community breakfast in Templepatrick it was a good deal and he had "no embarrassment" in asking people to support it.

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson said the deal on policing was a good one

The DUP leader said it would "ill-serve the people of Northern Ireland" if anyone held back on the decision.

The DUP had been insisting that Ulster Unionist support was essential if the party was going to proceed with the devolution of policing and justice.

That had thrown into question the next stage of the Hillsborough agreement - a cross-community vote in the assembly on Tuesday calling for policing and justice powers to be transferred from Westminster.

However, on Thursday the DUP indicated that UUP support may not be vital.

Mr Robinson seemed to suggest a more critical measure would be the DUP's own Executive meeting on Monday.

TUV leader Jim Allister said that the DUP was preparing a "spectacular somersault" on policing and justice.

"He set the test for community confidence as requiring support from the UUP in the Assembly on 9 March," he said.

"Now, seemingly unable to obtain cover from the UUP he is preparing nonetheless to vote through his disastrous deal with Sinn Fein despite assurances to the contrary to the 14 snowmen and despite knowing that his party only represents a minority of unionist opinion."



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