Page last updated at 19:58 GMT, Monday, 22 March 2010

Commons backs police and justice devolution

NI Speaker Willie Hay announcing the result of the vote
The assembly voted in favour of the move in March.

MPs have approved the parliamentary orders necessary to transfer policing and justice powers to the Stormont Assembly on 12 April.

With both Labour and the Conservatives backing the move, the result was a forgone conclusion.

Secretary of State Shaun Woodward told MPs the transfer of the powers showed that politics would be the "only way forward to reconcile disagreements".

"Today we complete our responsibilities for the peace process," he said.

"We complete the political process over which we have responsibility and we enable the Assembly at Stormont to be able to complete its arrangements for full devolution."

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson welcomed the transfer of powers.

"For the first time since powers were taken away from the Northern Ireland government in March 1972, Stormont will once again exercise powers over policing, criminal justice, the courts and local security issues," he said.

Mr Paterson was asked by Ulster Unionist North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon what efforts David Cameron made to persuade her own party to change their minds on opposing the devolution of justice.

Replying, Mr Paterson wondered why Lady Sylvia could not ask her own party leader Sir Reg Empey to clarify the matter.

He said the UUP was concerned about the workings of the four party coalition at Stormont.

Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan said there were still concerns over security issues which would not be devolved.

"We still have deep reservations about this dangerous twilight zone that exists in the interface between national security and the regional policing interest and the full accountability of devolution," he said.

'Right time'

The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson said the time was right to devolve the powers.

"There is no alternative but to move this process forward - difficult though it is, challenging though it is," he told MPs.

"We must offer to this generation, and to the next, the hope of something better.

"And if that means that we have got to work with people with whom we have difficulties, with whom we have had past differences - then if that is the price to be paid for the hope of peace in Northern Ireland, it's a price that I and my party and others have been willing to pay."

Earlier this month, NI Assembly members voted in favour of the transfer.

Out of the 105 votes cast in the Assembly, a total of 88 supported the move, with 17 Ulster Unionists voting against.

Disagreement on the timing of the devolution of the justice powers had threatened to collapse Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration.

In February, Northern Ireland's two main parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, reached an agreement which, now the vote has been passed, will see a justice minister elected.

The Hillsborough Agreement allows for the first and deputy first ministers to identify a candidate who would command cross-community support in the assembly.

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