30 November 2006 Edition
Republicans and policing
Sinn Féin devised a political strategy that brought us from military stalemate to the centre of politics on this island. In the Six Counties Sinn Féin has overtaken the SDLP and in the 26 Counties Sinn Féin are in a strong position to become kingmakers after the next general election.
The party has delivered on numerous issues -- the UDR and RUC reserve have been disbanded; blatant political and religious discrimination is a thing of the past; British withdrawal and a united Ireland are on the agenda of every political party on this island.
Sinn Féin abolished the 11 plus, opposed water charges, campaigned for the RPA and much more.
Sinn Féin has demanded the transfer of policing and justice powers from England within an Agreed Timeframe, and the make up and workings of the Department.
Political Policing is still part and parcel of the PSNI. If Sinn Féin is successful in the negotiations and manages to ensure that the balance of power rests in the Assembly and not in Whitehall it is my opinion that republicans should come at this issue with a very broad outlook.
Sinn Féin is attempting to ensure that there will be no more Seán Hoey's, no more Diplock Courts, no more supergrasses, no more plastic bullets and no more collusion or cover-ups. All this is only possible when power and accountability over policing is in the hands of Irish people not faceless Brits in Whitehall.
Republicans can come at this from an ideological position of never recognising British Rule in Ireland or we can come at it from the realisation that the Brits are here and how do we ensure that their influence is weakened as every day passes. The current Sinn Féin position will, if successful, weaken the British grip on Ireland. It's about holding this state to account while we struggle to tear it apart.
It is clear that Sinn Féin has been placed in a difficult position in terms of arranging an Ard Comhairle to debate the issue of republican support for policing in the North, given the DUP's reneging on previous commitments given over the timescale for the devolution of policing and justice.
Therefore, it is my view that the British government need to make it clear to the DUP that they intend to devolve these powers within a particular timeframe, and introduce legislation to that effect. It's important to bear in mind that Sinn Féin was prepared to make a major compromise on this issue, as there would inevitably have been a period of time, possibly a year, where it would have to work the policing structures in the absence of local control.
Unfortunately, although it has been a massive achievement to get the DUP through the Good Friday Agreement turnstiles, it needs to be borne in mind that they are far from being ardent supporters. They still appear to be operating in fantasy mode, dreaming of some distant utopia, a latter day Tir na nOg of voluntary coalition with the SDLP, and Sinn Féin banished to the political wilderness due to their inability to support the police. It is, therefore, important to ensure that those who feel that they have most to gain from delaying the devolution of policing and justice, namely the DUP, are disabused of the view that they have any power to do so.
Such a move by the British government would enable Sinn Féin to move forward with its plans to debate this issue, and would ensure that the context for making such a fundamentally important decision was not poisoned by unhelpful comments by the DUP about 'political lifetimes'.