SDLP conference hears call for full implementation of reforms


The SDLP justice spokesman, Alban Maginness has told his party's annual conference if the British government wanted devolution to take place it must "fully implement criminal justice reforms".

He told the conference, which is being held in Armagh, the SDLP wanted to see criminal justice reforms fully implemented and he expressed disappointment that the British government had failed so far to do that.

He said "The SDLP sees the need for a fully independent prosecution service in Northern Ireland.

"The SDLP seeks greater transparency in the system of criminal justice including the appointment of judges that fully reflect the communities' interest in Northern Ireland.

"We also want to see a court service which is modern and which reflects parity of esteem in relation to such issues as symbolism.

"We will continue to vigorously and assiduously pursue the British Government in relation to criminal justice until we have commitments on their full implementation.

"There is no question of the SDLP agreeing to the devolution of criminal justice or policing powers to the devolved administration in Northern Ireland.

"If the British Government wants devolution to take place then it must fully comply with the measures outlined in the criminal justice review."

Mr Maginness said the reform of the criminal justice system had been in many ways eclipsed by the argument over police reforms but was as important.

On policing, the North Belfast MLA insisted the SDLP's decision to endorse the Province's new policing structures had worked.

Its decision to appoint three MLAs to the Province's Policing Board had also been vindicated.

"Despite the difficulties, agreement was reached on issues such as symbolism," he observed.

"Despite the difficulties over the Omagh bomb investigation, the Policing Board agreed a response which strengthened the renewed investigation into Omagh and which highlighted the deficiencies of the original investigation.

"With regard to the fight against paramilitarism the recent successes against loyalist paramilitaries are reducing the capabilities of the Ulster Defence Association and the Loyalist Volunteer Force to wage war on the Catholic community."

Mr Maginness claimed the SDLP had also played a pivotal role in securing 'significant reforms' on human rights issues affecting the police, Special Branch and the restructuring of management within the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

In a reference to Sinn Fein's continued boycott of the board, he said: "While others stand on the ditch and hurl abuse, the SDLP is playing a full and active and increasingly successful role in the bringing about of a "fully Pattenised police service".

"What others have seen as stumbling blocks, the SDLP sees as stepping stones to the creation of a police service that embraces the whole community.

"Policing is the litmus test as to the making of our political system and politicians. Those who care about this community have taken the risks and the community will see for itself the benefits of the SDLP's courage and imagination."