The Stormont parties have been told “now get on with it” after the Government held out a generous £1 billion budget to cover the cost of transferring police and justice powers from Westminster.
Secretary of State Shaun Woodward said he believed the vast majority of people here now wanted to see the final piece of the devolution jigsaw — local control over policing, prisons and the courts put in place.
Gordon Brown’s package, unveiled yesterday, appeared to tick all the boxes in terms of meeting the main financial pressures including around £400m for hearing loss compensation.
The deal also seems to allow PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott sufficient independence to retain the police first reserve if needed for any operational reasons. But the cash will only come if the Stormont parties complete agreement on the switch-over including arrangements on how the new Justice Department will work.
Mr Woodward still refused to give a ‘best guess’ about when the transfer will take place.
“It is a matter for the politicians but I am encouraged by the hard work which I know has gone on,” he said. “I am both an optimist and realist about Northern Ireland and I know both Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson are committed devolutionists and that the time is very, very close for the opportunity to complete devolution.”
As the smaller parties pored over the details of the package for the first time, First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness met Conservative leader David Cameron at Westminster.
Afterwards Mr McGuinness was upbeat and said the commitment by Mr Cameron to honour the deal was a “huge achievement”.
* Source: The Belfast Telegraph