The Taoiseach and I met the political parties—both individually and together—and joined the plenary sessions of their negotiations at Hillsborough this week. I want to pay tribute to Brian Cowen for his patience and hard work.
We worked to establish common ground, to build dialogue between the parties and to re-establish the trust necessary to complete the devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland. This follows the agreement of an £800 million financial package in October 2009 that would be available for use upon successful completion of devolution.
As a result of these intensive discussions we believe that there is a clear pathway to an agreement that would achieve a settlement of all the outstanding issues.
First, we believe it is now possible for the parties to set an early date for the completion of the final stage of devolution. And we believe it is feasible for a cross-community vote in early March with the transfer of policing and justice powers around the beginning of May.
Secondly, we believe the parties have a sound basis for how the devolution of policing and justice will work in practice: in particular, that a solution is available for the creation of a new Justice Department and for the definition of the relationship between the Justice Minister and the Executive.
Thirdly, on the issue of parades there is a reasonable basis for agreement, including dealing more effectively with contentious parades, learning lessons from successful local models, and for enhancing the framework governing parades and related public assemblies in a way that guarantees respect, dialogue, transparency and independence.
In addition we have also put forward proposals for the Executive to move ahead on other outstanding St. Andrew’s issues.
It is right that the parties themselves now focus on working together, in a spirit of trust and mutual understanding, to agree and take ownership of the solutions.
The Taoiseach and I look forward to receiving an update on progress from the First and Deputy First Ministers on 29 January. If it proves impossible for the parties to resolve the outstanding issues, we are prepared to publish our specific proposals for wider debate and discussion. We have listened to the views of Northern Ireland’s political leaders—we have asked them to reach agreement on outstanding issues and move quickly to the cross-community vote in the Assembly necessary to achieve the completion of devolution.