1 February 2007 Edition
Extraordinary Ard Fheis: McGuinness proposes Ard Chomhairle motion
‘We can create a new beginning to policing’
BY ARAN FOLEY
Proceedings at what was one of the most historic Sinn Féin gatherings ever on Sunday 28 January, were opened by Sligo Councillor Seán McManus who began his remarks by saying that he was very aware that amongst the delegates and visitors to the Extraordinary Sinn Féin Árd Fheis were the families of deceased IRA Volunteers and to loud applause he said that the thoughts and sympathies of the Ard Chomhairle were very much with them.
McManus extended the sympathies of the Ard Fheis to the family of Alex Maskey senior, father of Alex Maskey MLA and Belfast City Councillor Paul Maskey, who had died Friday 26 January and also the family of former Omagh Sinn Féin Councillor Patsy McMahon and to Cavan Sinn Féin councillor Paddy McDonald on the recent death of his mother.
He reminded those in attendance that the day marked the 35th anniversary of Bloody Sunday saying that the victims and their families were always in the minds and hearts of Sinn Féin members.
After Standing Orders were adopted and a motion to exclude the media failed to get the necessary two thirds majority, Party President Gerry Adams delivered the opening address to the Extraordinary Árd Fheis convened to discuss a motion from the party’s Árd Chomhairle proposing to change the party’s long standing position on policing.
Adams said the vast majority of citizens wanted a just and lasting peace and many are open to the republican message of equality and peace with justice and freedom. The job of Sinn Féin was to make republicanism relevant to the people by living and acting in the present. Republicanism should never be about “militarism or dogma”. It should be about creating equality and ensuring that the benefits of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ accrue to all.
Referring to Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan’s report into the Mount Vernon UVF and their British paymasters, he said “Irish society, North and South, Orange and Green and all the colours in between, owes a great debt to Raymond McCord Snr and his family.”
The report was a mere snapshot of collusion which had been an administrative policy sanctioned at the highest levels. Although the Dublin Government claimed to be shocked at the recent revelations, they had failed to ensure a proper Garda investigation into the Dublin/Monaghan bombings which were also the result of British state collusion with unionist paramilitaries.
“In the aftermath of these attacks the British told the Fine Gael/Labour government that they had interned those they believed were responsible. And what did the government of the day do? Absolutely nothing! They didn’t have these men questioned. They didn’t seek their arrest. They did nothing. And every Irish government since then has failed these families and all those killed as a result of British state violence.”
Policing could not be left to the unionist parties, SDLP, Irish government and certainly not to British securocrats.
Delivering the report on the conduct and outcome on the negotiations around policing, the party’s policing and justice spokesperson Gerry Kelly MLA said republicans had a strategy to achieve their goals and a yardstick by which to measure progress.
He outlined Sinn Féin’s position on policing as one of seeking:
- Legislation to enable transfer of powers away from Britain and into Ireland.
- Time-frame and the detail of powers to be transferred.
- Agreement on the model for a Justice department, and
- The issue of MI5 in policing.
Referring to the intensive negotiations which took place, mainly with the British government up to and right through Christmas, he said a key objective for Sinn Féin was to bring the DUP across the line into power sharing which they have fought so long against - but to do that within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
He went on: “On the issues I have just outlined, comrades should know that:-
- Legislation for transfer of power has been passed.
- Powers to be transferred have been substantially agreed.
- The model for a Justice department put forward by the British government to the political parties substantially reflects Sinn Féin’s model.
- There is a timeframe for transfer of May 2008 in the British government model, with a commitment that the British government ‘would take the necessary steps to ensure that the timescale for devolution was not delayed’.
- There is a new statement on MI5 setting out in detail that MI5 will have no role in civic policing in the North.”
At St Andrews, the British government proposed the integration of MI5 and the PSNI. Kelly told the Ard Fheis that the SDLP accepted this, then claimed to have negotiated it and “told us that the integration of MI5 and the PSNI was a victory for their negotiators.Nonsense. It was a fundamental mistake”, he said.
Sinn Féin immediately moved to reverse this move which would have led again to a ‘force within a force’ in policing – “a recipe for more collusion like that unearthed in the McCord investigation”.
“This issue became core to our Christmas negotiations. We argued with the British that not only would we not accept it but neither would the nationalist people. We argued and achieved complete separation between civic policing and MI5. That PSNI officers could not serve two masters; that they must at all times be answerable to the accountability mechanisms outlined in Patten and hard won over years of tough negotiations. We won that crucial battle.
“Not only should MI5 have no place in civic policing it should have no place in our country North or South. However, we are not naive. We know that while British jurisdiction exists anywhere in Ireland so will MI5. They will leave our country with the rest of the British establishment but in the meantime they will be kept outside civic policing.
Kelly said that a complete ban on plastic bullets and the sorting of issues such as OTR’s or achieving a routinely unarmed police service was again down to political strength. “We need more and in my view the decision we make here today on the motion in front of us will make a huge difference to our ability to gain in strength and to use it”, he said.
Kelly concluded by saying that Sinn Féin had stayed outside of policing structures until now to “get the tools to make change”, but that they now had those tools. Justice would not just come as a gift, when a united Ireland was achieved, the preparation had to be done now.
“After getting this far we cannot leave this fundamental arena to be dominated by unionists who have dominated the same area for generations – and we especially cannot exclude ourselves. Every arena that Irish republicans have entered they have made radical change for the benefit of ordinary people. This is no different”, Kelly said.
“There is no good time, comrades, but now is the best time. We have the confidence and the ability to help create a new beginning to policing which is free from partisan political control, representative of the whole community and accountable to the whole community”, he said. He appealed to delegates to realise that they have reached that point and to back the Árd Chomhairle motion.
Proposing the Árd Chomhairle motion, the party’s Chief Negotiator Martin McGuiness said that in Good Friday Agreement negotiations, Sinn Féin made policing a major issue.
“I remember Seamus Mallon telling me directly, in the company of British and Irish officials at Weston Park ‘Martin demilitarisation is your issue, it is not an issue for the SDLP’. He was the MP for Newry and Armagh and representative for the hill top forts in South Armagh. The establishment of the Patten commission was one of the key negotiations breakthroughs in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations. It was a result of our pressure.”
He said that when people get what they seek in negotiations they have a decision to make.
“Today is D day. Today is decision day as Sinn Féin moves decisively forward to deliver for Ireland, for Ireland’s future, free and at peace. We do so against the backdrop of unprecedented confidence within the nationalist and republican people in the North and throughout the island”, he said.
McGuinness said Sinn Féin would to use its political strength to change the old order North and South.He held out that prospect that Sinn Féin could be the largest party in the Six Counties in the next five to ten years.
He said action was now needed from the DUP, the British Government and “we need to see an Irish government energized on this issue”.
He said the British had to make a big decision about whether there will be an election in the North if Sinn Féin dealt with policing and the DUP dealt with power sharing.
“I hope we will deal decisively with the issue of policing and I hope that Tony Blair and Peter Hain make it clear to Ian Paisley that yes the 28 January 2007 is a big day for Sinn Féin but Monday 29 January is an even bigger day for Ian Paisley.”
Describing the recent report by Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan as “a collusion lesson for the slow learners of the SDLP”, he said it confirmed what Sinn Féin believed for over 30 years - that there was systematic British state repression and murder used against citizens in the North.
“The lesson for Eddie McGrady, MP for South Down, to reflect on is his congratulations of the RUC on the day that Colin Marks, an unarmed IRA Volunteer was murdered in South Down”, McGuinness said to huge applause.
The DUP rejection of the O’Loan report raised even more serious questions about the DUP commitment to the rule of law and its refusal to accept that “when law makers are law breakers there is no law”.
He said Sinn Féin had to “boss policing”. “The PSNI are going to have to earn our trust. And they will know that they are the servants of the people not the other way around.” He went on to say that he wanted the PSNI to “watch MI5, to spy on MI5 and to arrest MI5 when they break the law”.
“I’m also conscious when I hear that there are other groups who criticize us for the road we are taking. And I came through the door this morning and there were people who shouted unjust things, unpleasant things. I can take that. Because we come from a tradition, the IRA tradition, that fought the British Army and the RUC to a standstill. Yes the IRA fought the British and the RUC to a standstill and we are being criticized by groups who have yet to fight them to a start”, he said.
Describing a gathering in Derry the previous Monday of about 40 families of IRA volunteers who died in the city, he said that he spent several hours with them. “At the beginning of the meeting the representative of one family stood up and read out a protest and a small number of people from that family left the room. Everybody else stayed. But they left. As they went out the door my heart went out the door with them but my head remained in the room.”
He said the eyes of the world were on Sinn Féin and people were willing the party on.
“So too are the eyes of British securocrats and NIO in Belfast and the eyes of the human rights abusers and DUP rejectionists on this hall today. They are watching this Ard Fheis with great fear and trepidation. What result do you think they want from here today? They want us to use their favourite word. They want a resounding no. So let us use this Ard Fheis give them what they fear most - a resounding Irish republican yes”, he said. McGuinness’ address was greeted with rapturous applause.
Seconding the motion Party Chairperson and MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald said that Partition could not be wished away. It was a concrete political objective to be realised in real time.
“Our strategy calls on us to critically engage with the structures of society that affect the lives of the people we. We do this while unapologetically pursuing our primary objective of ending Partition and removing the British state from Ireland.”
It was Sinn Féin and no one else who had forced movement on policing but now having achieved the threshold for a new beginning to policing demanded by the previous year’s Ard Fheis, the time was right to engage.
McDonald outlined the Ard Chomhairle opposition to amendments 1, 2, 5, 15 and 18 all of which ran contrary or diluted the intent of the original Ard Chomhairle motion.
Speakers who followed included Martina Anderson who urged people to back the motion in the same spirit as other decisions that had been taken such as the IRA cessation and putting weapons beyond use.
An Phoblacht editor Seán Mac Brádaigh asked delegates to remember who wanted the Ard Fheis us to vote no - “The gangsters and colluders of the Special Branch, the career secorocrats within the police, the No men of the DUP - McCrea, Allister, Dodds and the rest. Don’t let them have their day. Remove the last of their fig leaf excuses for refusing to share power with nationalists. Let’s open the doors and let a republican searchlight shine into the deepest recesses of the PSNI
Let us continue to change the North, undermine the union, dismantle partition and ultimately end the British connection”, he said.
Francie Molloy MLA said “The issue of policing cannot be considered or decided on in isolation. The decision to be taken is about how we best advance our strategy to meet our objectives. This Ard Fheis places in your hands the responsibility for taking a further decisive step in the development of the republican strategy.
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