I propose to take Questions Nos. 172, 173, 175 and 176 together.
Under the terms of the Good Friday and Weston Park agreements, policing and criminal justice powers in Northern Ireland were devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly in April 2010. As a result the new Department of Justice in Northern Ireland now has responsibility for policing and justice issues. The completion of the devolution of policing and justice marked an important milestone in fulfilling the full vision of the Good Friday Agreement and closed the circle in the transformation of policing structures in Northern Ireland. All those involved in transforming policing and in changing attitudes around policing can be very proud of the changed service they have built and the new culture of policing.
More than a decade on from the Patten Report, authority and responsibility for policing and justice issues are now where they ought to be – at the local level, accountable to, and operating for the benefit of all in the community. In the spirit of Patten, the PSNI is a police service, not a police force, part of the framework of society in the north. One of the hallmarks of the new service is independent oversight which is exercised by the Policing Board and guarantees public confidence in the new arrangements. Sinn Féin’s decision to join the Policing Board ensures their participation in these new arrangements and their voice, as is the voice of all political parties, is rightly heard.
I have had frequent contact with the party leaders within the Northern Ireland Executive on policing and related issues in the context of the overall situation in Northern Ireland. I have assured them that the Government remains fully engaged in our support of the work of the PSNI. I was particularly impressed by the recent PSNI led cross community conference initiative which was held in Cardiff to promote improved community and policing relations. Initiatives such as this are very welcome as we head into the Summer marching season.
The persistence of sectarianism in Northern Ireland, with the absence of political agreement on how to make progress towards a truly reconciled society, contributes to the likelihood of incidents such as those we have witnessed in recent weeks. While we continue to work in support of efforts to address the root causes of sectarianism, it is vital that the rule of law is respected and that the PSNI is fully supported in implementing the rule of law.