It’s certainly incumbent upon First Minister Ian Paisley to move swiftly to take policing and justice powers back from London and the statement last week by the DUP that the May deadline for devolution will be missed is a setback.
Therefore, even as the U.S. rolls out the green carpet for visiting unionist politicians over the next fortnight, the message must also be driven home that if Dr. Paisley hasn’t enough confidence in the peace to accept the devolution of policing and justice powers, then why should Americans have enough confidence to invest in Northern Ireland.
Indeed, as the momentum for the high-profile May investment conference in Belfast on 8 and 9 May (the first anniversary of the new government), unionists must realize they can’t have their cake and eat it.
Irish Americans and this newspaper are willing to put their shoulder to the wheel to ensure that Northern Ireland shares in the prosperity of the rest of the island but the minimum price of that support is that DUP ministers step up to the mark.
In that respect, the recent comments of the DUP Minister for Culture attacking a gay sports group and boasting about blocking Irish language rights legislation were particularly unhelpful to anyone trying to paint a picture of a more inclusive and tolerant Northern Ireland.
And as the focus moves to policing and justice, the performance of PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde – who also arrives on these shores this week – will come under scrutiny.
While progress has been made to turn the PSNI into a modern, nonpartisan, police force, some sectarian bottlenecks blocking forward motion remain.
Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson last week had to discipline PSNI officers who didn’t do enough to protect the vulnerable residents of Stoneyford village outside Belfast who have been suffering a campaign of intimidation and terror orchestrated by a leading loyalist.
Sadly, one Catholic family, in a scene reminiscent of the worst days of the Troubles, had to pack up and leave its home because the police response was singularly ineffective while more loyalist flags have been appearing in the area this week.
Chief Constable Orde should be asked now to guarantee that his officers will take a zero tolerance approach to the sectarian bigots who can have no place in the New Northern Ireland.