Northern Ireland: Devolving Policing and Justice

Devolving Policing and Justice, Northern Ireland

5 February – A Good Day for Ireland

 I am delighted to report a major achievement of the Northern Ireland peace process.  

 On 5 February 2010, the parties in Northern Ireland reached an agreement at Hillsborough which will see the devolution of responsibility for policing and justice by 12 April; will seek to improve the prospects for agreed outcomes to contentious parades; and will improve the working of the Executive and Assembly at Stormont.

 As the joint statement by the Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Prime Minister Gordon Brown states:

 “The successful outcome of these negotiations is the result of the political parties in Northern Ireland demonstrating leadership, mutual respect and political will to act in the interests of the whole community.  The two Governments fully support and stand over this agreement. We are committed to working, as appropriate, to ensure its faithful implementation.  Today is a good day for the people of Northern Ireland and for the people of these islands.”

 The Northern Ireland peace process has been a complicated and long process.  It has been necessarily so given the complex origins, duration and course of the conflict between 1969 and the ceasefires in 1994.

 I was honoured to have been part of the team of Irish officials involved in the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.  At the time we had faith that the Agreement was the most comprehensive document addressing the complexity of factors that made the conflict in Northern Ireland so intractable. 

We also knew that agreeing an outcome document was one thing; implementation quite another, even in the context of the tremendous process of change brought about by the Anglo-Irish Agreement some thirteen years earlier.  And so it proved to be. 

That peace making and peace building in Northern Ireland should take such time and attention should not detract from what a success it has been, whether for measured for example by the power sharing arrangements or the transformation of policing. 

A major feature of the Good Friday Agreement was the establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council which is a structured inter-governmental framework for cross-border cooperation across a range of economic and social sectors.  From this process, for example, emerged Tourism Ireland which jointly promotes the island of Ireland, North and South.  This cooperation has helped enormously to bridge relations across the border and advance the social and economic interests of all of the people who share the island.

The agreement on 5 February last to transfer policing and justice is the last unfinished business of the Good Friday Agreement and a major testament to how far we on the island of Ireland have travelled from conflict to shared responsibility.  Its significance is enhanced by the fact that it was the parties themselves that negotiated and concluded the agreement.

Of course, there remain many challenges ahead.  However, the 5 February agreement is an historic step toward the realisation of the vision set out in the Good Friday Agreement. 

Eamonn McKee



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