THE constitutional and political journey that started in the second week of April 1998 reached its destination yesterday when the Northern Ireland Assembly voted in favour of the devolution of justice and police powers from London to Belfast. This was the last steep legislative hill that the politicians of Northern Ireland had to surmount before the Good Friday Agreement could be declared completed -- a thirteen year journey that has seen many road blocs and accidents along the way. Despite the last minute opposition of the small Ulster Unionist Party the vote was decisive -- 88 of the 105 votes cast were in favour. The Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein stood by the terms of the Hillsborough Agreement that they would work together to stabilise the province's power-sharing agreement.
It was sad to see the Ulster Unionist Party in opposition at this final stage of the process it played such an important part in getting started under David Trimble's leadership in the late 1990s -- and even sadder to hear its current leader, Sir Reg Empey, making an issue of primary school examinations to try to bargain over the devolution of justice and police powers. The intervention of George W Bush to ask David Cameron to persuade the Ulster Unionists (with whom the Conservatives have a pact) to join the majority was odd and there may be more to it than we have yet heard.