Further problems with devolution in Northern Ireland

It is once again proving difficult to stick to the timetable set for Northern Ireland devolution. While Sinn Féin is calling for justice and policing powers to be transferred to Belfast, the unionists say that Northern Ireland is not ready. Another period of political instability may be around the corner, especially after Ian Paisley’s announcement that he will be stepping down as DUP leader.

Devolution is fast becoming the issue dominating the Northern Irish coalition government, which, since May 2007 has seen cabinet posts shared between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). It is now the transfer of justice and policing powers that is at stake. Sinn Féin wants these competences transferred to Belfast by May, but the DUP believes this would be too soon because they “still need more time to gain confidence in republican intentions”, according to the Irish newspaper the Independent.

The Irish Government has said that it supports Sinn Féin’s objectives but does not agree with the deadline because a consensus has not yet been reached with the Protestant community. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has warned that failure to give Northern Ireland control over the justice system would lead to political instability and a decline in foreign investment. As the Herald Tribune explains, Protestant leaders fear that Sinn Féin will appoint an IRA veteran as justice minister.

Major unionist figure steps down
The debate over devolution of justice and policing powers comes one week after Ian Paisley, DUP leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland, announced that he would be stepping down from his posts, although continuing to serve as an MP. The Independent ( attributes his actions to internal criticism within his own party. He is accused of having too cordial a relationship with his political opponents - and partners in government - Sinn Féin.
Since the 1960s, Paisley has represented hard-line unionism and anti-republicanism, and he is the person responsible for transforming the DUP into the major Protestant party in Northern Ireland.

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