ALL being well, Northern Ireland's power-sharing Executive will be meeting today for the first time since June. Its work was suspended following a break down in confidence between the new First Minister Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party and his deputy Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein.

With the departure of the Rev Ian Paisley as first minister, and thus the end of his improbable euphoric relationship with Martin McGuinness, reality came to the fore. Prominent among the outstanding disagreements between the two majority parties in the Executive was a settlement on the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to Belfast, the most complex and emotive of the issues still unresolved after a decade of negotiations.

This “final issue” had been put on the back burner many times but Sinn Fein, in particular, was unwilling to participate in the Executive's other work until it was addressed. So day-to-day government was once again undertaken by Whitehall. At last, however, the three sides have reached an agreement that will see the creation of a ministry of justice in Northern Ireland, the appointment of an attorney-general, and the provision of the necessary funds by the British government to establish these functions. The task of choosing the minister of justice will be handled outside the Democratic Unionist and Sinn Fein parties by members of the Executive. Clearly, there have been compromises on all sides to put in place what Gordon Brown called yesterday “the last building block of the peace process”.


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