Friday, 1 August 2008

Impasse continues

Last week we speculated that if Sinn Féin signalled their acceptance of the idea of an Alliance Policing and Justice Minister, it might resolve the current impasse. The next day Gerry Kelly, the Sinn Féin Junior Minister, did precisely that but the impasse continues. The Alliance Party's Naomi Long has said there has been no serious offer from the DUP or Sinn Féin about her party taking the position.

Despite Mr Robinson’s offer to return from his month long holiday in the USA if necessary, it doesn’t look if a break through is likely in the next few weeks.

Empey dismisses idea of devolved policing and justice in near future

UUP Leader Sir Reg Empey said that Sinn Féin’s ‘blackmail and bullying’ did not inspire him with any confidence that the Executive was currently ‘mature’ enough for the devolution of policing and justice. Sinn Féin maintained that their chief Negotiator, the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, was available for ‘meaningful discussions’ but added they did not see the point of holding Executive meetings unless a number of ‘outstanding issues’ including policing and justice were addressed

Police ‘misinterpreted’ and Labour Minister unclear

The Direct Rule Criminal Justice Minister, Paul Goggins, declined to call on police to seize loyalist weapons after a senior PSNI officer indicated that police know how to find arms dumps. Mr Goggins extraordinary evasion – he repeatedly called on the paramilitaries to hand the weapons in – did not go down well in many circles.

Mr Goggins remarks came after the outgoing Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan, currently in charge of intelligence, was reported as saying that police have intelligence in place to locate loyalist weapons. He later said that he had not been accurately reported. Was this the case or was the soon-to-retire top policeman hinting at political interference?

Mr Goggins also announced that cash for a republican neighbourhood justice scheme is likely to be approved — in spite of SDLP claims that the funding will be based on a flawed report.
One can only assume that Mr Goggins was distracted by the speculation about the Labour leadership and the Labour party’s problems in general.

Republican dissident threat considerable

A number of papers reported that MI5 apparently believe that the greatest terrorist threat to the UK comes from Irish Republican dissidents not ‘Islamic’ fundamentalists.

The security services are picking up more suspicious activity from Northern Ireland's dissident republicans than from any other radical group in the UK, according to the Guardian. Up to 60% of all the security services' electronic intercepts - phonetaps and other covert technical operations - have come from dissidents, despite the threat posed by hundreds of suspected Islamist extremists on the UK mainland.

Sir Hugh Orde, chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, has separately confirmed that the dissident threat is the highest since he took office.

Sinn Féin under attacks from Republican dissidents

Sinn Féin Assembly Member for North Antrim, Daithi McKay, and another Sinn Féin member were apparently assaulted in Ballymena by Irish Republican dissidents. How one distinguishes between anti social elements and disgruntled Irish Republicans is unclear. It is unclear whether Mr McKay has reported the incident to the PSNI.

Donations to local parties more than double after devolution

The Belfast Telegraph has drawn attention to the fact that private donations to Northern Ireland's four main political parties soared to over £700,000 in 2007. This could have been because people were keen to ‘invest’ in the political process now that devolution is working. The Telegraph also drew attention to the fact that unlike their counterparts in Britain and the Republic, parties here are permitted to keep the identities of donors secret.

The Belfast Telegraph has also trained its eyes on MLAs renting offices from their own political parties using their allowances from Stormont.

Iris Robinson controversy rumbles on

The controversy over the remarks by Iris Robinson about homosexuality and the need for government to uphold ‘God’s Law’ continued. Prominent gay rights activist Peter Thatchell who was in Belfast this week called on her to resign and an on line petition on the Downing Street website calling for the same reached over 12,000 signatures. According to some reports, Mrs Robinson is keen to establish a national profile.

‘Home-coming’ parade

The News Letter’s campaign to have a ‘home-coming’ parade for local troops returning from activist service has gained support and stirred some opposition. Sinn Féin Assembly Member, Barry McElduff, made several appearances in the media to voice his opposition. Whether this opposition is reflected in official party policy remains to be seen.

Such a parade would undoubtedly represent a security nightmare