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Historic policing deal under negotiation in Northern Ireland

Latest update : 2008-08-05

Former foes in the Northern Ireland conflict have struck an agreement on the controversial issue of police and justice administration in the British province. But they have yet to convince a minority party to take charge of the portfolio.

A deal on policing and justice in Northern Ireland, one of the most contentious issues dogging self-government here, hit a stumbling block Monday when one of the key parties rejected the job of minister.
The Democratic Unionists under First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein, whose Martin McGuinness is his deputy, agreed Monday there should be one Minister for Policing and Justice in the devolved power-sharing government formed last year.
But the plan hung in the balance after the leader of the Alliance Party, which it had been hoped would supply the minister, said he wanted no part of it.
Under the terms of the agreement, the minister would not have come from either the DUP, which is Protestant and wants to keep Northern Ireland part of Britain, or Sinn Fein -- the Catholic party and former political wing of the paramilitary Irish Republican Army (IRA) -- which wants a united Ireland.
Both sides are wary of taking charge of what is one of the most sensitive and divisive issues in Northern Ireland politics.
The terms of their agreement instead suggested that the minister would come from the non-sectarian Alliance Party, but its leader David Ford said he had no intention of helping "an incoherent and incompetent executive".
"They (the DUP and Sinn Fein) really ought to consult with us before they spin about us," Ford said.
"I think there is this idea that they can rely on us to ride to the rescue. Well, they can't expect that when they haven't spoken to us (on the issue) for the last 16 months."
Policing and justice issues are currently controlled from London.
The issue is particularly sensitive because during the three decades of unrest known as the Troubles, policing was dominated by Protestants.
Sinn Fein and the IRA harboured deep animosity towards officers, who were often targeted in attacks.
Northern Ireland's police force has since been shaken up, changing its name from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in 2001 and recruiting more Catholics, who make up around 25 percent of the new force.
The Troubles were largely ended by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and devolved government resumed last year after breaking down in 2002.

Date created : 2008-08-05