A republican justice minister would be a political disaster

Morning View
Morning View

There was last night a Sinn Fein account as to what the DUP agreed in the talks.

The DUP has denied that anything was agreed.

The allegations include the claim that unionist negotiators were prepared to concede a republican justice minister, perhaps as early as 2022.

It seems that only changing the appointment process was on the cards, and such a change would not necessarily lead to a republican minister — or at least not for some years. But the raising of the idea makes it apposite to recap on how serious such an appointment would be.

If recent events have taught us anything, they have taught us that there is a challenge in the wider criminal justice system in getting scrutiny of past terrorism. On the other hand, some developments suggest there is no difficulty getting scrutiny of allegations against the state — even what seems at times like a keenness to do so.

All senior unionist politicians are, or should be, fully aware of the troubling things that are happening with regard to legacy, and the determination of the IRA to use UK state funds to destroy the reputation of the security forces in the Troubles and also to get every state file opened that they can.

It would be unthinkable to have a republican justice minister amid such challenges. Aside from the complications that might arise in having such a minister if they were alleged to have once been a member of a banned paramilitary group, there would be security concerns even if they had no such record but were merely supporters of terrorism.

David Ford as justice minister did good work in resisting those voices who are pushing the dissident lie that the current crop of terrorists are maltreated by the PSNI and jails. His party, Alliance, sensibly agreed that there are concerns with Northern Ireland bail policy, in which people on serious terror charges have got bail in a way that would not happen in Great Britain.

Sinn Fein, on the other hand, having once stayed silent in the face of dissident lies about bad treatment, has latterly given weight to such protests.

A member of that party in charge of justice would be a disastrous development.