Northern Ireland Assembly: Executive Committee Business: Justice Bill: Further Consideration Stage (7 March 2011)
I will comment on amendment Nos 1 and 2, which have been tabled by Mr McCartney. He also proposes amendment No 25 to schedule 2. I accept the position of the Minister of Justice.
It seems that the Sinn Féin amendment, probably unintentionally, would weaken the principal policing and community safety partnership and devolve to the district partnerships some of the power of the central partnership. That is not helpful. I say that for two reasons, the first of which is that it weakens the backbone of the partnership in Belfast, namely its central functioning aspect. Secondly, when issues start to be devolved to local districts, that weakens the main thrust of the partnership. I understand what my friend is trying to get at, but it takes away from the centrality of the partnership.
As Mr McCartney correctly pointed out, Belfast is unique because of its rather elaborate structure and the fact that four districts will cabinet is the name given to the group of senior members from..." class="glossary">shadow, as it were, the present DPPs. That adds more elaboration to the architecture that we are discussing, which is not helpful as far as the partnership in Belfast is concerned. Therefore, if we want an effective and proper partnership in Belfast, rather than adding to the intricacy of the architecture, let us simplify it. The Sinn Féin amendments make it much more elaborate, and Sinn Féin Members should think carefully about that. The amendments do not really assist.
The Bill provides the power for the central partnership to ask district partnerships to deal with local matters, which is a better compromise. The Sinn Féin amendments do it back to front, and it is better to keep the provision as laid out by the Department and the Minister. We also need uniformity in partnerships across the North. The amendments take away from that uniformity, despite Belfast being unique and needing some flexibility of approach.
The origin of all this, of course, is in the DPPs established under Patten. The whole idea of DPPs was to bring policing closer to people and communities. However, a central body in Belfast was necessary to allow that to happen. Adoption of the Sinn Féin amendments in the present circumstances would damage that basic concept of Patten. Sufficient flexibility is established in the Bill to allow for local activities by the partnership, and that is the best way to go.
For those reasons, the amendments should not be supported. I say that with some regret because the amendments are well intended. However, ultimately, they would weaken the proper functioning of the policing and community safety partnership in Belfast, and it is important to preserve its strength.