'Gazette' opposes devolving policing now


THE CHURCH of Ireland Gazettehas come out against the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont at present.

Editor Canon Ian Ellis argued there is no adequate gauge of public opinion, nor what he calls "a formal political opposition at Stormont". He said this is necessary for such a sensitive and controversial transfer of powers. The Gazetteis an independent journal covering Church of Ireland affairs.

"As things stand, I for one do not have sufficient confidence," he said in a statement yesterday.

"In the current circumstances, I believe there should be a real and open public consultation on whether or not the people of Northern Ireland generally do indeed have adequate confidence in the Stormont administration for the devolution of justice and policing to proceed."

Pledging support for the principle of devolution, Canon Ellis said: "While I support the principle of power-sharing, I am increasingly concerned by the fact that there is no formal political opposition at Stormont.

"What appears to happen is that decisions are very often taken on what effectively is a system of 'trade-off of demands' between the political parties, as opposed to focusing on the real merits in particular issues." Developing his argument, he said it would not be acceptable "to have justice and policing powers in a parliamentary system that does not have a formal political opposition".

"Indeed, that becomes all the more questionable when it comes to any de facto 'trade-off of demands' system of decision making. What 'trade-offs' might there be when it comes to public prosecutions or policing or the running of prisons, for example?"

On this basis and because of the recent devolution of powers from London to Stormont, the Gazetteeditor said "it would be better to wait until the Stormont administration gains more maturity before the transfer of powers is further contemplated".

Welcoming the decision by former paramilitaries to "have left violence behind", he added: "It remains a matter of real concern that no adequate expressions of regret for their past crimes have been made. Before such persons could have responsibility, however indirect, for policing and justice in particular, their clearly expressed regret is only to be expected.

"The lack of a formal opposition places a real onus on civil society bodies to keep a close watch on the Stormont administration's actions and not to be fearful of challenging it," Canon Ellis said.