AT a meeting at Down District Council last night (24th October), Sinn Féin refused to nominate their three representatives to the new Police and Community Safety Partnership for the district. The item on the agenda was discussed privately ‘In Committee’.
The PCSB’s are being set up across Northern Ireland and will replace the current system of Community Safety Partnerships and District Policing Boards that is in place. It is expected that the PCSB’s will be operating by early summer next year.
Local Downpatrick Sinn Féin Councillor Liam Johnston said after these meeting, “We did not nominate our representatives because our party at Northern Ireland level is still not happy with a number of issues and we are in discussion about them with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“It is an ongoing matter and I am confident that it will be resolved positively. A key issue is over accountability for the councillors and other representatives involved. We are seeking clarity on this. Potentially if we as councilors make a wrong decision there could be a surcharge back to the Council itself, and perhaps even at a personal level.
“We are working with the DOJ to sort this out and some other administrative issues. The local Community Safety Partnership and the District Policing Board have both made a contribution to the area and we need to ensure that this continues in our district and across the six Counties.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Justice said, “The Justice Act states that councils must ‘appoint political members so as to ensure that, so far as practicable the political members reflect the balance of parties prevailing among the members of the council immediately after the last local general election’ (Sch.1 para. 3(3)).
“Councils are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the political members on their PCSP reflect, as far as possible, the balance of parties within Council. This, in turn, will assist in making PCSPs representative of the local community and truly effective for their local area.”
DUP Councillor William Dick, Chairman of the Down District Policing Board, added, “This process will go forward with or without Sinn Féin. I understand there may be issues of governance, responsibilities of the new body and even its size, but the Assembly has taken the decision that it is to move ahead and it will be in place by May or June next year.
“We as a Council have decided to move ahead with it and will work to get everything in place.
“There are a number of questions that have to be sorted out yet. For example, over accountability, the new body should be accountable to councillors and the council chief executive.
“Some issues are simply out of our control and are being dealt with at an Assembly level. One issue, that of surcharge, is important. It applies to all the work we as councillors and public representatives do in different bodies. If we make a wrong decision it could be very costly after we have taken legal opinion on a matter that it is proven to be wrong. There is always that possibility.
“The DOJ is traveling through uncharted waters facing real issues, but that will not stop progress. I hope that the good work of the Community Safety Partnerships and the District Policing Partnerships continues in some way through a new mechanism that will have to be set up probably at local level to address these varied issues such as addressing anti-social behaviour and improving the management of bonfires and in other areas,” added Cllr Dick.