16/02/2006

Hain announces Northern Ireland Bill

Secretary of State, Peter Hain, has today introduced new legislation to the House of Commons to help pave the way for future devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Bill also contains a number of other provisions including Northern Ireland elections, a power to create a wholesale electricity market for the island of Ireland and provision to facilitate the funding of sustainable energy development.

Speaking earlier today, the Secretary of State said: “This legislation is preparing the ground for devolution by ensuring there are no legislative barriers to progress. I have already stated that I regard 2006 as a crucial year for Northern Ireland and people have made it quite clear to me that they want the Northern Ireland Assembly back up and running and wish to see local representatives taking responsibility for Northern Ireland’s future. If we can get agreement on changes to the operation of the Good Friday Agreement institutions then I will bring forward the necessary amendments during the path of this Bill.

Mr Hain added that in addition to the introduction of the Bill, he had also published a discussion document on the devolution of Policing and Justice in Northern Ireland under an Assembly and emphasised that this cannot happen until Stormont is restored.

The Northern Ireland Secretary continued by saying that Parliament must be convinced that the proposed arrangements for devolution are "robust, workable and broadly supported by the parties."

He said: “The discussion document sets out the specific powers that Government thinks should be devolved and how these could operate including the concept of policing precept. This would bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. I believe that it may be useful for the Northern Ireland Assembly to have a similar power, to allow elected representatives in Northern Ireland to raise additional funds from the Northern Ireland regional rate to provide an enhanced level of expenditure on policing, reflecting local policing priorities."

Mr Hain concluded by saying that he hoped that the political representatives and Northern Ireland Public understood that the Bill is enabling legislation that covers a number of issues and if the local Assembly is restored, then the legislative powers would already be in place to move the Northern Ireland political process forward.

(EF/SP)

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