On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Under Standing Order 18A(5), a period of questions on a ministerial statement may last no longer than one hour. I am sure that Members from across the House will consider that to be grossly inadequate, given the importance of the statement that is to be made today. Mr Speaker, I know that the SDLP Whip raised that issue with you at the Business Committee. What is your opinion on the adequacy of that Standing Order? The SDLP will seek to amend that Standing Order through the Committee on Procedures in due course.
I understand that, undoubtedly, there will be considerable interest in the statement. The Member is correct to say that the SDLP Whip raised the matter at the Business Committee today. However, Standing Order 12(7) is clear that motions relating to the business of the House shall be taken at the start of business and certainly after notice. The term “after notice” has been ruled to mean appearing on the Order Paper, and, as I already said to the Business Committee, it is not possible to move a motion for suspension of Standing Orders without its being on the Order Paper. That was made absolutely clear at the Business Committee. I refer Members to Standing Order 12(7).
I have received notice from the First Minister and deputy First Minister that they wish to make a joint statement. Following the statement, questions will be answered alternately by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister. However, Members should note that I shall call only one Minister to answer each question.
The deputy First Minister and I wish to make a statement on the agreement that was reached last Friday at Hillsborough Castle. I will deal with the devolution of policing and justice powers and the establishment of a working group to identify proposals to improve Executive functioning and delivery. The deputy First Minister will outline our agreed approach to parading, including finding local solutions to contentious parades, and addressing outstanding Executive and St Andrews issues.
This agreement is the result of an extensive negotiation to resolve a number of significant outstanding issues, the first of which is the devolution of policing and justice responsibilities. The agreement on policing and justice devolution builds on decisions that the deputy First Minister and I had taken previously, notably in our statement of November 2008, and on solid work by the Assembly, in particular by its Assembly and Executive Review Committee.
The Assembly has already passed legislation that will facilitate the establishment of a Department of justice and has set out the procedure for the appointment of a justice Minister. The agreement reached last Friday sets a timescale for the achievement of devolution. A process of community consultation will be undertaken over the next few weeks. On 9 March, the deputy First Minister and I intend to table jointly a motion requesting that a broad range of policing and justice responsibilities cease to be reserved and are devolved to the Assembly. It will be for the Secretary of State to lay an Order in Council at Westminster to effect that. The Government will set out publicly a parliamentary schedule for taking forward the necessary transfer Orders to implement that devolution. The transfer of responsibilities should take effect on 12 April. From that day, the Assembly will have responsibility for the broad range of policing and justice powers that previously fell under Westminster control.
The model for the new Department of justice and the method for appointing its Minister has already been the subject of extensive debate in the Assembly and consideration by the Assembly and Executive Review Committee. Last year, the Assembly passed a Department of Justice Bill that sets out the method for appointing a Minister. That method requires a cross-community vote in the Assembly to elect a justice Minister, following a nomination by any Member. In due course, that process will be initiated here in the Chamber.
Today, we met party leaders to consider applications of interest for the new ministerial post. The purpose of the meeting was to allow us to identify the candidate who, we believe, is best able to command cross-community support when the election takes place. Given the stated position of the parties, it has not yet been possible to identify an appropriate candidate. A new justice Minister will be elected on the Floor of the Assembly when powers have been transferred on 12 April.
The Hillsborough Castle Agreement sets out two principles that will be essential for the operation of the devolved policing and justice responsibilities. The first is the independence of the judiciary, which underpins the rule of law in all modern democracies. We re-emphasise our commitment to that principle in the agreement. The second principle that is restated in the agreement is the Chief Constable’s operational responsibility, free from partisan or political interest, for directing and controlling the police within a framework of policies and objectives that are set by the Policing Board and the Department of justice.
The agreement looks forward to the work of the future Department of justice. It commits to an addendum in the existing Programme for Government that reflects the extended responsibilities that will devolve to the Assembly and the Executive. The new Minister will draft the addendum to the Programme for Government and bring it to the Assembly for approval. The addendum will set out a programme of work for the new Department and will also demonstrate how that will mesh with the work of other Departments. The agreement offers an indicative list of policies that might usefully be included in the addendum. That sets a challenging agenda for the new Department — one that supports effective policing, avoids delay in the criminal justice process, aims to rehabilitate offenders and protects the interests of victims and witnesses.
The agreement makes it clear that the new Minister of justice will be a full member of the Executive: he or she will have the same standing as other Ministers when attending and voting at the Executive. He or she will have operational responsibility for matters in the Department of justice, which will be subject to his or her direction and control. From time to time, the justice Minister will have to take quasi-judicial decisions. In line with best practice, we are agreed that those shall be made by the justice Minister without recourse to the Executive.
The agreement also enables the Minister to bring proposals to the Executive on how the ministerial code and related procedural guidance might be amended to ensure effective decision-making on urgent, confidential or other matters within his or her responsibilities that might, under current arrangements, require Executive consideration. Any amendment to the ministerial code will require Executive and Assembly approval, and we expect any new agreed arrangements to be in place by the summer recess. In any event, cross-cutting issues, legislative proposals and financial allocations to the justice Department will still require Executive consideration.
We believe that the arrangements in the agreement on the devolution of policing and justice represent an effective basis on which to move quickly to the assumption of those new responsibilities.
It has also been recognised for some time that the successful implementation of devolved policing and justice responsibilities is dependent on an adequate level of resourcing. That was the motivation for our prolonged engagement with the Prime Minister last autumn, to ensure that identifiable shortfalls in the current levels of funding were rectified. The outcomes of our negotiations with the Prime Minister were set out in his letter published on 21 October 2009. The generosity of that offer, especially at a time of financial restraint, was widely acknowledged, and that offer has been repeated in full in the text of the agreement.
The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State repeatedly made it clear that the additional funds offered in that package were dependent on the successful devolution of policing and justice responsibilities. If the Assembly votes on a cross-community basis on 9 March to request devolution, and if the other essential steps are taken to achieve actual devolution on 12 April, our policing and justice agencies will have access to that additional level of funding over the coming years. That will contribute considerably to the success of the new responsibilities that will devolve to the Assembly and the Executive.
The effectiveness of the Executive in delivering positive outcomes for the community, and, in particular, how that could be improved, was an important theme of discussion at the talks. As we have indicated in the agreement, parties have put forward their ideas, and we wish to facilitate and to continue that work by establishing a working group to consider all proposals for arrangements that would improve the functioning of the Executive and their ability to deliver. As Members are aware, we have proposed that the leaders of the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP should co-chair the working group, and we will be discussing that further with them. Following that, we will seek the Executive’s agreement on the establishment of a working group, which we hope can start its work by the end of the month. We hope to have Executive endorsement of that approach by the end of the week.
I commend the agreement to the Assembly and to the wider community.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. The Agreement at Hillsborough Castle is evidence of our commitment to resolve the issues around parading, including finding local solutions to contentious parades. As part of that, we have established a process to develop a new and improved framework for dealing with parades. That framework will be fashioned by all stakeholders and will maximise cross-community support. For the first stage of that process, we have agreed to set up a co-chaired working group comprising six members. The membership of the group was announced last night. The group had its first meeting earlier today and will complete its work within the next two weeks.
We recognise the importance of support from all sides of the community, and that support will be vital in creating a new improved framework for the management and regulation of public assemblies, including parades and related protests.
We believe that an effective framework should be built on a number of key principles. First, no two situations are the same and, therefore, no solution can be imposed. It is our view that local people are best placed to provide local solutions. Secondly, we must respect the rights of the people who parade and the people who live in areas affected by parades, acknowledging that, at times, those rights may be at odds. The new framework will recognise that everyone has the right to be free from sectarian harassment. Transparency, openness and fairness must permeate all aspects of the framework, and total independence will ensure the credibility of the decision-making process.
The interim report of the Strategic Review of Parading will provide the basis on which the working group will take forward its deliberations. The report will also inform the public consultation, which is scheduled to take place between March and June. The five key areas that the working group has been tasked to consider include procedures relating to the receipt and notification of parades and assemblies, and objections relating to those; the facilitation of dialogue and mediation, and, in the event of the failure of mediation, recourse to independent adjudications and procedures; adjudication arrangements; a legally enforceable code of conduct; and the right of citizens to freedom from all forms of harassment. That list is not exhaustive, and the working group, by agreement, may add to it. We will promote and support all the agreed outcomes of the working group.
A number of core principles will underpin the improved regulatory framework. In the first instance, we recognise that the framework must be capable of maximising cross-community support. However, we are mindful that we need also to promote resolution to ongoing parading issues while the work of working group and the legislative process are continuing. It is incumbent upon us to ensure that the appropriate support mechanisms are in place
With that in mind, support will be provided to help local communities and those who parade to find local solutions to contentious parades and related protests. That will encourage local accommodation and will take account of lessons to be learned from successful local models.
The involvement of all key stakeholders is intrinsic to the resolution of contentious parades. With that in mind, we are keen to promote and to support direct dialogue with representatives from the Loyal Orders, band parade organisers, local residents’ groups and other stakeholders, because that work is advanced. We will also encourage the participation of locally elected representatives in the process of resolution.
The current adjudication mechanism of the Parades Commission will continue until the new improved arrangements are in place. It is our intention that a draft Bill will be completed for consultation by late March. The consultation process will run until early June. We will introduce a Bill to the Assembly in September. We intend to support all necessary steps in the Assembly to ensure that the Bill completes all its stages before the end of 2010. We will also take all the necessary steps to enable the reclassification of parades as a transferred matter.
The agreement also provides for the junior Ministers to chair a working group to identify all Executive papers and decisions that are pending. The aim of that exercise will be to make recommendations to the Executive on all those outstanding issues on which it may be possible to make progress and to explain how that might be achieved. We intend for that work to be completed by the end of this month.
Finally, the agreement commits us to bringing forward a report to the Executive by the end of this month, detailing the level of progress made on the outstanding matters arising from the St Andrews Agreement. The junior Ministers will also chair a working group to bring forward recommendations by the end of March on how progress can be made on those outstanding issues, following which we will agree a programme for the implementation of agreed conclusions.
I commend the agreement to the Assembly and to the wider community.
I am grateful for the opportunity to ask a question as the Chairperson of the OFMDFM Committee. I will ask further questions from my party political perspective.
Will the First Minister confirm what role he envisages for my Committee in the working group that has been established to bring forward agreed outcomes for a new and improved framework for parades?
Speaking from my party political perspective, I would like to know whether the First Minister will provide to the House today a comprehensive list of the outstanding issues from St Andrews, which were referred to in section 5 of the Hillsborough Castle Agreement. What does he think would constitute an agreement on parades? Have the First Minister or his party colleagues had any discussions with Ministers or officials from Her Majesty’s Government, including the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, on the possible reintroduction of suspension legislation for the Assembly? Will he confirm whether he has shared the identity of his secret device with the deputy First Minister or his party colleagues?
In answer to the question that Mr Kennedy asked as the Chairperson of the OFMDFM Committee, the deputy First Minister and I talked earlier today and agreed that it would be appropriate for us to meet the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee to consider how best we could interact with them as part of the process, particularly with regard to the work that they will want to do on parading. There are almost two parallel processes that we could usefully draw together. That might be beneficial and could save some time.
As far as identifying a list of outstanding issues from the St Andrews Agreement is concerned, I thought that we had just agreed to set up a working group to do precisely that. There are a number of issues from St Andrews that my party and I regard as outstanding. Some matters in the St Andrews Agreement were not implemented, and others were not faithfully implemented; there are distinctions between those two. Therefore, the working group, on which Mr Kennedy’s party will have a member if it takes up that position, will identify the issues, consider the extent of that commitment, determine what progress has been made on issues, consider what further progress can be made and report to the Executive.
As far as suspension legislation is concerned, I am glad to say that it never entered my mind to ask Her Majesty’s Government about the reintroduction of suspension legislation for the Assembly. I want the Assembly to run smoothly, and I hope that the Member feels the same. Perhaps we should be moving forward on a more positive vein.
I know that you like answers to be short, Mr Speaker. However, I do not think that I will be able to do so when answering the next question. Therefore, I rely on your legendary and acknowledged patience as I respond to the issue about the secret device.
Everybody has recognised that there are methods available, particularly to the two main parties in the Assembly, which can be used at any and all times to bring down institutions, to ensure that things do not work and to act as vetoes. It is well recognised that a leader of the Ulster Unionist Party once wrote out his post-dated resignation and eventually caused a suspension of the Assembly, and it was reported in the newspapers that the deputy First Minister was prepared to resign. Had he done so, we would have unquestionably ended up with something worse than the suspension of the Assembly. The Assembly would probably have collapsed. I, too, have the ability to do exactly the same things if I feel that there is bad faith on the part of the signatories to the agreement.
At Hillsborough, the Prime Minister indicated that he will act as a guarantor for the agreement and its faithful implementation. However, there must be a time during any negotiating process when you look across the table at the person with whom you are negotiating and you make a determination as to whether you believe that that person will seriously keep the commitments that they are entering into. Quite frankly, if you do not believe that that person will do so, you should walk away from the table and have nothing to do with it. I have entered into this agreement on the basis that my party and I will meet all our commitments, and I expect that Sinn Féin will meet all its commitments in the agreement as well. It is on that basis that I believe that the Assembly and the community should be looking forward. I will have the other agreements in my back pocket: it is a case of trust and verify all the way. However, if that is what we must rely on, there is little hope for this Assembly.
Over the past months, I have had plenty of drama in my life. I could have walked away very easily. Every brain cell and every blood cell cried out to me to watch from the sidelines rather than from the front line. I am here because of a sense of duty, because I believe that what we are doing actually matters and that what we are trying to achieve in this Assembly is for the betterment of all the people of Northern Ireland. It is so that young people, such as those in the Public Gallery, will be able to enjoy a future not like the past that many of us had to go through. If other Members in the Assembly do not collectively agree with that, we would all, quite frankly, be far better packing our bags and going home.
Yes. I am supremely confident that the legislation can be delivered. I am also supremely confident that the transfer of policing and justice powers will happen on 12 April. I agree with the First Minister, although I am not sure that the word “clever” can be applied to a scenario that would see the dismantling of the institutions.
It is much better to move forward in a positive vein than to look on the black side. In the couple of days since the agreement was announced on Friday past, it has been interesting to see some media outlets doing their damnedest to unpick the agreements that were made. They have done their damnedest to drag Members onto their radio programmes, for example, in order to put the negative side of things to them so that the community who watched with considerable hope and optimism as we made the Agreement at Hillsborough Castle would continue to be disillusioned.
I travel with hope and optimism; I look on the bright side. When my party makes commitments, it is absolutely dedicated to keeping them. It is true that, having moved into the scenario that we are in, and in dealing with the very difficult issues that we face — whether the history of the past 800 years or the past 40 years — in order to make the progress that we need to make, we need to move forward with courage and decisiveness and with no fear of those who are opposed to the power-sharing, the North/South or the east-west institutions that were agreed between our parties in recent times.
I will move forward to make this place and its institutions work. The institutions need to work if we are to deliver a better future for our children and our grandchildren, and if we are to tackle the difficulties that ordinary citizens face as a result of the recession: people losing their jobs, elderly people living in fear, and families and children in poverty. Those are evils that the Assembly and the Executive have to tackle.
I am absolutely committed to playing my part, and I am absolutely committed to working in harmony with the First Minister to ensure that we deliver for the people who sent us to this place.
I hope that the group that will deal with Executive functioning will be under the co-chairmanship of the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and the leader of the SDLP. I congratulate the new leader of the SDLP on taking up her new and extended duties. I assure her that the deputy First Minister and I will be happy to work with her as she moves forward in the leadership of her party.
The working group will conform to all our rules and practices. However, the practices that it will not conform to are those that, I believe, have caused the delay in many of the decisions that we have taken. All the parties that submitted papers during the talks process demonstrated that there was a remarkable degree of overlap in the methods that they could use to make the Executive function and to deliver better. All of us, working as a collective Executive, rather than having a Government and an opposition in the Executive, can move forward with better structures and better arrangements to get better delivery for the people of Northern Ireland.
Paragraph 2 of the introduction to the Hillsborough text states:
“We wish to see this agreement reflect our willingness to ensure the Executive and the Assembly reflect better this spirit of partnership, mutual respect and equality which remain vital for the success of devolution.”
How does the First Minister square those saccharin words with the distortion of democracy that he has engineered, with Sinn Féin assistance, to deny nationalists a rightful additional Minister at the Executive table?
There have been a number of debates on that issue in recent times, and I made remarks during those debates that I will now repeat. Every single Member knew from the very beginning of this term of the Assembly that there was no prospect whatsoever of the Democratic Unionist Party agreeing to the transfer of policing and justice powers in the context of the d’Hondt mechanism. We all knew that. It is also abundantly clear — [Interruption.]
It is also abundantly clear that the community, in widely welcoming the transfer of policing and justice powers, would prefer to see a local Minister in charge of the Department of justice. During the debate, there were suggestions from the SDLP that ignored the DUP position as stated from the beginning of this term of the Assembly.
I was determined during the negotiations to see the transfer of policing and justice powers. However, one thing that I know for certain, for absolute certain, is that there was no prospect whatsoever of the SDLP getting a second ministry, for the simple reason — [Interruption.]
I have all the time in the world, and, like the First Minister, I — [Interruption.]
Like the First Minister, I want to congratulate the new leader of the SDLP — [Interruption.]
However, I remind the SDLP that when the First Minister and I had a previous conversation with the leaders of parties in this House, it was made clear at that meeting by the former leader of the SDLP that he wanted to see d’Hondt run again. If d’Hondt had been run again, we can be absolutely certain that the Department of justice would have been taken by a unionist party for the simple reason that — [Interruption.]
If I had accepted the arguments made by the SDLP during the course of those discussions, one thing is absolutely certain: we would not have had the transfer of policing and justice powers in this term of the Assembly. The other thing that is absolutely certain is that we would have continued to have direct rule Ministers from London lording it over the justice and policing arrangements here in the North of Ireland.
You can heckle as much as you like, but we all know that, since Sinn Féin and the DUP became the largest parties in the Assembly, the SDLP and Ulster Unionist Party have developed into the two grumpy parties. — [Interruption.]
Liz O’Donnell, a former junior Minister in the Department of Foreign Affairs, said when observing from Dublin what was happening in the North, and she expressed her view publicly, that the SDLP and Ulster Unionists were in denial about the election results. That was many years ago. I feel that you are still in denial and still unable to accept — [Interruption.]
You are still unable to accept the changes to the political landscape that have taken place in recent years.
The answer is very clear: for Sinn Féin to have agreed with the SDLP’s approach to the debate on the transfer of policing and justice powers would have been to guarantee continuing stewardship of justice and policing in the North by British direct rule Ministers. [Interruption.]
On behalf of my colleagues, I welcome last Friday’s agreement. I also welcome the constructive joint statement that the two Ministers made today as a demonstration of a different way of working and moving forward, and frankly, one that is in sharp contrast to the cheap heckling coming from either side of me at this end of the Chamber.
There is no doubt that the people of Northern Ireland want these institutions to work, and they want politicians to be constructive. They do not want the silly catcalls that are going on. [Interruption.]
Does the First Minister agree that we need more than the words of last Friday and that we need serious actions to demonstrate a different way of working together? Does he agree that the best way to demonstrate that is by serious movement on promoting a shared future for all our people, specifically through the cohesion, sharing and integration (CSI) strategy?
I thank the Member for welcoming the agreement and the joint statement that was made today. I am sure that he cringed somewhat when, to his right, he heard the leader of the SDLP referring to a cross-community vote in the Assembly as a corruption of democracy. I cannot understand how that term can be used for something that could not have been more democratic in seeking a more widespread support for a way forward or for a Minister.
He is right to say that people outside the Chamber want our institutions to work and deliver. He is also right in saying that more than words are needed; actions are needed as well. That is why we have set up the three working groups. Their purpose is to nail down the delivery problems that exist in the Executive, to look at the decisions that have not yet been taken, or, where there are difficulties, to see if we can find a pathway through those difficulties.
I am glad to say that there has been wide agreement within OFMDFM as to how the CSI strategy will be taken forward on a policy basis. I do not believe that it will be one of the issues on which we will get stuck. I believe that we can make real progress. I think that we have already shown in the agreement that we have reached a large measure of agreement on the framework for any addendum to the Programme for Government. That is how we should be moving forward, and I hope that we will get encouragement from all sides of the House, no matter what their party affiliation may be.
How do the Ministers envisage the office of the Attorney General will be set up, and at what cost? How do they consider the Attorney General might report to the Assembly? What plans do they have to share with the Committee the paper that John Larkin QC submitted to their office in September 2009?
I ask the Ministers to share with the Committee any views they might have on any or all of the category 2 list of issues that the Committee considers need to be dealt with. Quite a number of those issues were dealt with at the Committee’s meeting this morning. I also ask the Ministers to share their views on the overall budget that will transfer from the Northern Ireland Office.
Finally, given the plans for a:
“resolution for a cross-community vote in the Assembly on 9 March” to ensure that powers are devolved on 12 April 2010 —
I ask that the Ministers appear at the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, possibly even next week. That request was made at today’s Committee meeting, and a letter to that effect is on its way to the Ministers’ offices.
The Attorney General will have a range of functions, including legislative and legal functions such as referring the legislative competence of Assembly Bills to the Supreme Court and defending the public interest in civil law matters. He will also have functions in relation to the Director of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS), such as appointing the director and arranging for the annual report of the PPS to be laid in the Assembly.
The Attorney General will also have consultative and advisory roles, such as issuing guidance on human rights standards and being consulted on the programme of criminal justice inspections. We intend to invite the Attorney General to be the chief legal adviser to the Executive. The Attorney General will have no role in individual prosecution cases. On the devolution of policing and justice, the Director of the Public Prosecution Service will become solely responsible for all decisions with regard to the prosecution of offences relating to devolved matters.
The Justice Act 2002 provides for the Attorney General to participate in the proceedings of the Assembly to the extent that is permitted by its Standing Orders. It is envisaged that that participation might involve the Attorney General’s answering questions on the exercise of his responsibilities in relation to the Public Prosecution Service and the work of his office. The Attorney General will have no voting rights in the Assembly, but he will prepare an annual report on the exercise of his functions. The First Minister and deputy First Minister, acting jointly, must lay that report before the Assembly.
We are considering a report that was prepared by John Larkin QC on the establishment of the office of the Attorney General and its potential role. After that, we will make arrangements with the Assembly authorities for the preparation of suitable Standing Orders. The Attorney General and his support office will be funded by OFMDFM, but final decisions have yet to be made on long-term structures. The Assembly will have an opportunity to debate the Estimates and the budget for the office of the Attorney General as part of the budget Bill that is required to support expenditure on policing and justice functions.
As I said, we are still considering the report that was prepared by John Larkin QC on the establishment of the office of the Attorney General. We are aware that the Assembly and Executive Review Committee has an interest in that. We intend to share the report, along with our considered views and commentary, with the Committee in due course. We will be more than willing to take up the invitation to appear before the Committee about the important measures.
Mr Spratt referred to the category 2 list of issues. In connection with the Assembly and Executive Review Committee’s ongoing inquiry on the devolution of policing and justice matters, it identified a list of issues to be addressed. We understand that the Committee has reached a view on several of the major issues, such as the full-time status of the Attorney General post and the judicial appointment arrangements. In other cases, we have taken forward work that has changed the context significantly. Examples of that work include our financial negotiations with the Prime Minister and the conclusions that were reached in the Hillsborough Castle Agreement on parades and the relationship between the justice Minister and the Executive.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a ráiteas. The statement outlines:
“no two situations are the same and, therefore, no solution can be imposed. It is our view that local people are best placed to provide local solutions.”
Will the First Minister confirm that his Department will support local communities to arrive at local accommodations in disputes relating to parading?
I can certainly give that assurance. We have laid out that there are two different elements to the resolution of parading issues, the first of which is the generality of parades. A working group is considering how we might have a more transparent, open and fair process. That will be to everyone’s benefit and will ensure that everyone knows precisely where he or she stands on parading and protest issues.
As for those parades that have attracted more contention, either through the parades themselves or the protests that are associated with them, there is a requirement for a greater deal of work, and not just in the week or so before the parade is due to take place. The deputy First Minister and I are totally committed to giving whatever assistance we can to encourage local engagement, dialogue and solutions. Other Assembly Members who have taken an interest in parading issues will want to do the same in their own areas.
Ultimately, the resolution to contentious parades and protests lies in local accommodation. That is why I was involved in the Drumcree issue and attempted to start a dialogue. The Portadown Orangemen showed a willingness to take part; regrettably, the Drumcree residents’ group, which had earlier indicated an interest in taking part, has not yet done so. That meeting has not yet taken place. That is the type of issue on which we need, on a year-round basis, to encourage people to resolve such disputes.
It is in all our interests, and those of the Police Service, justice and the finances to deal with policing and justice, that we overcome the problems that we have had with parading over these past years. There will be no want of energy or commitment on the part of the deputy First Minister or myself in giving support to achieve local solutions.
“On 9 March, the deputy First Minister and I intend to table jointly a resolution requesting that a broad range of policing and justice responsibilities should cease to be reserved”.
“on 12th April, then our policing and justice agencies will have access to that additional level of funding over the coming years.”
From that point, we will have the devolution of policing and justice.
Does OFMDFM accept that there are other significant dates in the Hillsborough agreement that relate to parading and, in the event that they are not met, policing and justice will not be devolved?
There is no point in regurgitating what I said earlier. I am moving forward in a positive spirit, with a good heart for the agreement and with absolute commitment and determination to make it work.
Following on from that very interesting question from Lord Morrow, does the First Minister agree that no one speaks for the Orange Order except the Orange Order? The institution has not been involved in the negotiations on the Hillsborough agreement and it will not comment further until it has studied the agreement in due course. Therefore, in light of the timescale set out in the agreement, will the First Minister wait for the Grand Lodge to give its verdict on the agreement at a time of its own choosing?
As the Member said, no one speaks for the Orange Order except the Orange Order: not me, not him, nor anyone else in this Chamber. Therefore, we will listen to what that institution and the other Loyal Orders have to say on these issues. However, I was encouraged to hear the remarks of the Orange Order, the Royal Black Preceptory and the Apprentice Boys, which indicate a positive outlook and a preparedness to consider seriously the proposals in the Hillsborough agreement.
I want the whole community in Northern Ireland to be able to have a say on the agreement that we reached at Hillsborough. It is essential that we have community confidence in the institutions that would grow as a result of the further devolution of policing and justice powers. That is why we are holding a consultation process. It is essential that we have support from all sections of the community and from all parties in the Assembly as well. As far as I am concerned, the only way forward is to have that support, both in the community and the Assembly.
Will the First Minister confirm that the chief negotiator for Sinn Féin, namely the deputy First Minister, has, essentially, told the House that no nationalist need apply for the post of justice Minister, and that the devolution of policing and justice will be achieved only if the parades question is resolved?
Will he also confirm that nationalist votes are of less value than unionist votes in this House, and that Sinn Féin has rolled over to DUP demands?
Well, we certainly had confusion when the former leader of the SDLP said that he wanted to see d’Hondt being run again, which would have meant the collapsing of a Department and absolute certainty that the justice Department and its responsibilities would have been taken by a unionist Minister. To then have — [Interruption.]
The SDLP is obviously afraid to hear, or does not want to hear, the answer. In recent days, we have heard a different position from the SDLP, arguing that it is entitled to a second Ministry. With the full running of d’Hondt, the SDLP would still have the one Ministry that it has at the moment.
I have been informed that it is the intention of the working party, since its meeting this morning, to invite representatives from the other parties to make submissions and to come and see it. [Interruption.]
If the Member is not interested in going, that is a matter for her. However, I am reliably informed that all parties in this Assembly will receive an invitation from the working party.
By dint of the process that we have agreed, it will move forward at different stages of the Committees in this Assembly and will be subject to a cross-community vote in the Assembly on the basis of the legislation.
Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the First Minister and deputy First Minister for their statement. My question has been partly answered, but are there any details of the role of the current Parades Commission as the working group and the new and improved processes roll out?
I am convinced, now more than ever, that the stoops — I mean, the SDLP, is quite happy —
The working group on parades will look at the experience of the Parades Commission, which has been appointed for the remainder of this year. The agreement indicates that we will look to a new framework that will take into account the work of the Parades Commission but build on the work that was carried out with the strategic review of parading.
The people on the working group have experience and knowledge of the parades issue. Attending the first meeting of the working group with the deputy First Minister this morning, I saw a determination from them to do their work within the time limits that they set down and to come out with an agreed approach. I believe that that is the way forward. I really cannot understand anyone in this House who would attempt to undermine the working group’s efforts. I say again that it is in the interest of the whole community that we find a way through the parades issue, so that we have a better framework and system with more community respect than existing systems.
If we were all to be honest, we would readily accept that, although there have been great successes for the joint decision-making process at the Executive, an awful lot of our work has left a lot to be desired in terms of forging agreements and moving forward in a way that delivers for our people. That was certainly the case until Hillsborough.
I said all along that securing agreement at Hillsborough would present a new launching pad for the Executive and the Assembly to move forward in a way that delivers for citizens. That is why the establishment of the three working groups is so important. It is an inclusive process. It is an attempt to improve our performance. It is an attempt to deliver for our people. The First Minister and I are absolutely determined to move forward in a spirit of harmony and partnership to ensure that the citizens who voted us into this place can be rightly proud of the delivery record of the Assembly and the Executive.
The SDLP’s fractious contribution to the debate will confuse a lot of people, just as they found the steps taken by the SDLP during the passing of the Department of Justice Bill very confusing. The SDLP consistently voted against that Bill, and then abstained, before voting for it in the final vote. The SDLP must make up its mind.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. The deputy First Minister raised an important point. All Members should be aware that the appointment of the justice Minister was decided in the House. There was a vote in the Chamber on how the justice Minister should be appointed — by cross-community vote. The SDLP voted for that Bill. However, my question is: will all outstanding matters from the St Andrews Agreement be implemented?
We have indicated in the Hillsborough agreement that we will identify all the issues outstanding from St Andrews. The text of the St Andrews Agreement had varying levels of commitment to various issues, and, of course, there are varying levels of commitment from political parties to those issues. However, some issues go beyond the St Andrews Agreement and are part of legislation, which involve legal obligations. Those matters will be identified by the working group, and it will recommend how we might move forward.
I thank the Ministers for their statement. Will the First Minister indicate what changed in the agreement between last Monday and Friday to buy off the DUP Members who were deeply unhappy with it on Monday and who said that there would be no devolution of policing and justice powers in a political lifetime or in the lifetime of the Assembly?
The Member did not speak to me like that when we were sitting down together in Hatfield House. I am sure that he wants a common way forward within unionism on those difficult issues.
The real difference was that we did not have agreement on Monday. By the end of the week, we had reached agreed terms. During Monday’s discussions, there were gaps in the agreement. We talked about them, and a group that nobody could say was not representative of the party came down to indicate to the press that the party had unanimously been encouraged by the progress that had been made at Hillsborough Castle and that issues that had to be dealt with had been identified. During the week, we dealt with those issues, and, just as we ended up with a unanimous decision on Monday, we ended up with a unanimous decision on Friday.
The deputy First Minister told us that there was no prospect of the SDLP ever getting a second Minister and that he knew that from May 2007. Today, he told us that the devolution of justice and policing powers was conducted on DUP terms and that, from the outset, he capitulated to those terms. I doubt whether they will, but will the First Minister and the deputy First Minister assure Members that the Hillsborough Castle Agreement is the full extent of what has been agreed between them? Furthermore, do they agree that, if parties and people are to make an informed decision about the arrangement, they need to know what is on the table and what is under the table? Do they agree that the lack of detail in the agreement leaves them open to the conclusion that everything is not on the table and that things have been agreed under the table?
With the First Minister’s agreement, I confirm that everything that we agreed between us is in the paper that Members received in the aftermath of the Hillsborough agreement. That is the full extent of the agreement between the First Minister and me.
As the Member tries to return to what is a very weak argument, I remind him that, before these institutions were established, we had a shadow meeting in which we agreed what Departments each party would take. In effect, we ran d’Hondt behind the scenes before coming here to do it officially, and, fair play to all the parties, everybody kept their word. However, during that process, both behind the scenes — [Interruption.] The Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP were also involved, so Members should not be shaking their heads and saying “That’s interesting” as if they did not know. Maybe they did not know, but I can assure them that all parties were involved.
When d’Hondt was run behind the scenes, the SDLP was entitled to one Department. When it was run in the Assembly, it was entitled to one Department. If it were to be run again tomorrow morning in the Assembly, the SDLP would still be entitled to only one Department.
I welcome the agreement that was reached at Hillsborough. I congratulate the First Minister and deputy First Minister on their statement and on their determination to make the Assembly and Executive work to deliver politics for the people of Northern Ireland.
I will ask a two-part question: will either Minister give a bit more detail on the process of community consultation that is mentioned in the Hillsborough agreement? What consideration has been given to and what mechanism has been chosen for the appointment of a Committee for justice, and will that Committee include representation from every political persuasion in the Chamber?
I thank the Member for her good wishes as we attempt to move forward. I will take the second question first: the Assembly will be in charge of the structures of the Committee that will be set up to scrutinise the Department of justice. I suspect that the Committee may want to operate under the d’Hondt system; equally, it may want to operate under another system. Perhaps the SDLP will propose an alternative method to d’Hondt under which it could operate. However, it will be entirely up to the Assembly to decide on its structures and how people are appointed to it.
As far as the determination of community confidence is concerned, we had some discussions last night and again today on how we might take that forward. It is likely that we will use some newspapers as an element of the wider community consultation, and we will also consider other more modern techniques. However, there could be other considerations, including the recognition that stakeholder groups throughout the community will want to have their say on the issue. The Assembly will also want to discuss the issue. Although the community will have an opportunity to have its say at a grass-roots level, we are the elected representatives of that community, and what we say about those issues is important. I will want to ascertain that all parties in the Assembly are supportive. If we are truly to argue that community confidence exists, the support of all Assembly parties will be necessary.
As many Members know, prior to Christmas, at meetings between the First Minister, me and the leaders of the other parties, we set in train the process of allowing all the parties to consider how we would identify a justice Minister. It is clear to everybody that any Member of the House can be nominated for that position. We had a further meeting this morning, and people have undertaken to consider the situation.
The SDLP is on public record as having nominated Alban Maginness for the position. Other parties have reserved their position at this time, and, out of common courtesy, we must give them space to consider the matter. However, it could well be that we will not know the identity of the justice Minister until we come to the Floor of the Assembly on 12 April 2010, when our task will be to install a Minister with responsibility for that Department. However, a justice Minister could, conceivably, be identified prior to that.
Although this morning’s meeting was with all the party leaders collectively, the First Minister and I agreed that we will meet each party leader individually over the next while to discuss that issue and other matters of concern. It is only appropriate that we undertake to have those meetings, and we will see what comes out the other side of them. However, come what may, we are confident that we will be able to emerge from the Assembly sitting on 12 April 2010 with a Minister for justice.
I thank the First Minister and deputy First Minister for coming to the Chamber. All that I can say is that the agreement was a long time coming. Thank God that it came. The situation would be worse had there been no agreement at Hillsborough. I commend my Alliance Party colleagues for sticking the pace, as it were. Some colleagues did not stick the pace — [Interruption.]
A question is coming for whoever wants to answer it. In respect of parades, the second bullet point on page 6 of the Ministers’ statement refers to:
“The facilitation of dialogue and mediation”.
Do the First Minister and the deputy First Minister accept that the parading issue is one of good relations, not just of conflicting rights?
The Member is right: there were many hours of negotiations. I believe that someone bothered to count them and there were 120. I make no apology for that whatsoever. Throughout the process, I argued consistently that it was important to get the agreement right, rather than to get it quickly.
For decades upon decades, the two issues that we tackled had escaped resolution from all parties in the Chamber. We have been able to reach agreement on two matters that I do not believe any other parties in the Assembly would have been able to reach. They were not able to reach agreement in the past. The issue of dealing with policing and justice was deemed so outrageous that, during previous talks that I can remember, it did not even make it onto the agenda. The issue was deemed impossible to resolve. Therefore, that achievement is significant, although it took a long time.
Policing, justice and parading have placed a cloud over the community and, indeed, over the Executive during the period that we have existed. The ability to find a way forward on those issues liberates the Executive to deal with other issues, to make progress and to achieve better delivery.
As for parading, there must be recognition of the cultural rights of every section of the community. There must be respect for each other’s traditions. Through that, we can all have the right to enjoy our own culture and way of life in a way that offends no one. The issue is about good relations. However, it is also about people being able to talk to each other to find resolutions to disputes and difficulties that exist at present.
Does the deputy First Minister agree with the characterisation that was given to the accord by the First Minister at Hillsborough, when he said that the deal was made in Ulster and that, therefore, all the people of Northern Ireland or Ulster, however one wants to define it, have won political stability and the opportunity for economic growth that flows from it? With that in mind, will he indicate to the House whether, in his view, the Assembly and Executive Review Committee will continue to carry out its important scoping functions or whether he envisages a change to the workings of that Committee?
Probably the only disagreement between the Member for North Antrim and me is the definition of Ulster. His Ulster has six counties, and mine has nine. However, that is not a major issue.
I agree absolutely with the sentiment that Ian Paisley Jnr expressed. I have been out and about publicly at all kinds of functions. Indeed, on Saturday night, I was one of thousands of people who watched Derry play Tyrone in a Gaelic football match at Celtic Park. Much to Barry McElduff’s sadness, on that occasion, at least, Derry beat Tyrone.
People’s mood is upbeat. They are conscious of the Hillsborough agreement’s significance. There is recognition that, although we have stuttered along from the institutions’ beginnings to the Hillsborough talks, circumstances are now presented, as the First Minister has said, in which the agreement can mean liberation for all of us to move forward and provide proper support and government for the people whom we represent.
On the day that the agreement was made, I said that it could be the day on which politics finally came of age here in the North. Sinn Féin is absolutely and utterly determined to work with its ministerial colleagues from the unionist tradition and from the SDLP in a spirit of co-operation, harmony and partnership to build a better future for our children and grandchildren.
The agreement has been widely welcomed. The people who argue against what we are trying to do are coming at it from different positions. We respect the positions of those who disagree with us, but I think that there is a danger that they have misread the mood of the people in the streets, towns, villages and cities and the position that they are coming from. Whatever about the controversy around this, in the run-in to the agreement, when people were concerned about whether the institutions were sustainable and whether they would fall, people I met on the streets said that the Assembly had to continue because it provided the only hope for the future. Whatever about their reservations, criticisms and concerns, the last thing that people in the unionist or nationalist/republican community want to see is the collapse of the institutions that we have agreed over the course of what is undoubtedly one of the most successful peace processes in the world today.
Therefore, it is important that we use the Hillsborough agreement. It could be the most significant agreement that we have made in recent years, if we implement it and allow ourselves to be liberated by it to move onward and upward and to bigger and better things for the people whom we represent, as the First Minister rightly said.
The First Minister and I will be pleased to go along to an Assembly and Executive Review Committee meeting at the convenience of that Committee and subject to diaries being suitable to discuss the implications of the events for the Committee and to discuss what future the Committee has in the context of this work. I have no doubt that the Committee will want to remain in existence over the coming weeks and months. There is still work to do, and we will be glad to make first-hand reports to the Committee.
Will the First Minister advise the House what method will be used for the appointment of the justice Minister beyond 2012, or will the Department face an uncertain future? We have been told that there is no deal between the DUP and Sinn Féin and that everything relating to the Hillsborough Castle Agreement is on the table. Have there been side deals done between Her Majesty’s Government and the Democratic Unionist Party or with Sinn Féin?
It will be for this House or, should I say, the House that will be elected at the elections in 2011 to determine what should occur after 2012. There is a sunset clause, and the House will have the opportunity to use the same system or a different system. That will be entirely a matter for the new Assembly to decide. There is no doubt that, in doing that, we will learn lessons from the processes as we move forward under these arrangements.
Mr Beggs also asked about side deals. I have heard a lot being said about the Presbyterian Mutual Society and so forth. At a time when we were talking to Government Ministers, particularly the Prime Minister, whose ear we were able to whisper into, our community would have felt that we were not doing our duty if we had not tried to indicate to him that there were issues that were important to our community. That is not a side deal. There is no attachment between the agreement that we have reached and the Presbyterian Mutual Society issue or any other issue.
We raised other issues, and I hope that the Member’s party raised other issues with the Secretary of State and with Ministers. It was right for us to do that, because there are issues to be resolved that affect everybody. The Prime Minister has offered us a date to talk further about the Presbyterian Mutual Society, and I know that the deputy First Minister and I are eager to take it up.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On a previous occasion in the House, the party to my right was referred to as “the Provos” and/or “Provisional Sinn Féin”. The matter was referred to you for consideration. I refer you to the unparliamentary reference that Ms Ní Chuilín made to the SDLP, and I ask you to report back to the House on the matter.
I hear what the Member said. I have already made a ruling on this matter in the House. Let me be clear about this: whenever Members name parties, I expect them to name them by their designation. I have always made that ruling. Members should not tag names on to parties. I make it absolutely clear that parties should be recognised in the way in which they are designated in the Chamber. I made that ruling a number of months ago, and I have no problem doing it again.
The House will take its ease for a few seconds before it moves on to the next item of business.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClarty] in the Chair)