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18 January 2007 Edition

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Opinion: Confident republicans face decision with courage and clear view to objectives

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin is TD for Cavan/Monaghan and the Sinn Féin Group Leader in Leinster House

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin is TD for Cavan/Monaghan and the Sinn Féin Group Leader in Leinster House

Our job is to ensure policing change happens as quickly as possible



The Extraordinary Ard Fheis scheduled for 28 January places in the hands of Sinn Féin delegates the responsibility for taking a further decisive step in the development of the republican peace strategy and in the advancement of the peace process. Already the debate on the motion proposed by the Ard Chomhairle has begun and hundreds of delegates will travel to the Ard Fheis mandated by the party structures to make a democratic decision.

The decision to be made on 28 January will be based, in the final analysis, on how best to advance towards our republican objectives. For that reason a thorough and informed debate is essential. It should involve not only members of Sinn Féin but supporters of the party and of the republican cause on as wide a basis as possible. The great strength of Sinn Féin is our firm foundation of activists on the ground throughout the country who are fully engaged in republican politics both locally and nationally.

The leadership of Sinn Féin, which is the Ard Chomhairle elected by the membership of the party, has a responsibility to lead and it has done so. It has endorsed a resolution to go before the Extraordinary Ard Fheis which represents a significant change in the party’s position regarding policing in the Six Counties. The resolution follows directly from that passed by the 2006 Ard Fheis which provided for the Party President to propose to the Ard Chomhairle that it calls a special Ard Fheis to decide Sinn Féin’s position on policing arrangements in the Six Counties.

The new resolution arises also out of the development of our party’s position on policing over a number of years. Some republicans argue that Sinn Féin should never accept policing within the Six-County statelet and that no policing structures should have our support until we have achieved complete British withdrawal and Irish unity. While I respect the sincerity of those who argue that case, the fact is that Sinn Féin has already moved beyond the position so articulated. We have been engaged since the Good Friday Agreement in campaigning and negotiating for a new beginning to policing. We want that to happen in both the Six and the 26 Counties. The political reality is that such change has been and will be gradual and incremental – but not necessarily protracted. It is our job to ensure that it happens as quickly as possible. And it is also our job to ensure that it is transitional, a stage in the journey towards an all-Ireland policing service in a united Ireland.

It is crucial that we take full account of how much has been achieved so far. The old RUC is gone, never to return. Its demise is as irrevocable as that of Unionist one-party rule at Stormont or of the B-Specials and the UDR of bitter memory. Who made the issue of policing central to the peace process? Sinn Féin, of course. If the SDLP, the Irish government and the Catholic Hierarchy had had their way the process of change in policing would have stopped at an early stage in the peace process and far short of the new beginning required. Indeed, while the conflict was ongoing, all of those powerful elements in Irish society were, to one degree or another, working with the old RUC in its most repressive and sectarian phase.

Sinn Féin was right to withhold support from the PSNI and to stay out of policing boards up to now. We did so to maximize the pressure for change. But the point was always going to be reached where we had achieved much progress and wrung from the British government many required changes and were faced with the question of the next step. What must be done to maximize further change and to ensure delivery of what we have negotiated? That has to include the option of entering the accountability structures for policing. The Ard Chomhairle is of the view that the best way to ensure further progress is to take our place where we are best positioned to hold the PSNI to account.

Media commentators and political opponents will try to portray this as Sinn Féin doing a u-turn, compromising republican principles and embracing the PSNI. It is no such thing. Read the record of how in the Dáil we demand accountability from the Garda Síochána and are the strongest critics of their misconduct and of the failed policing policies of this and successive Irish governments. The PSNI requires even greater vigilance on our part and an endorsement of the Ard Chomhairle motion on 28 January will not change that.

Some people argue that republicans are giving something away with a move such as this. I disagree. In my view we are not giving but taking. We are taking policing away from the exclusive control of Unionism and the British securocrats and placing it in the hands of the people. They need and deserve an equitable, efficient, accountable and human-rights-compliant police service.

A difficult decision faces us on 28 January. I am confident republicans will face that decision with courage and with a clear view to our objectives and how we will reach them. I know we will have a comprehensive and intelligent and comradely debate. And I firmly believe that we will make our decision and emerge united and strong.


  • Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin is TD for Cavan/Monaghan and the Sinn Féin Group Leader in Leinster House.




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