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1 March 2001 Edition

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Resolution requires unity of purpose

BY MICHAEL PIERSE

Responding to media reports that Sinn Féin is under pressure to accept less than what it has demanded on policing, the party's Chief Negotiator, Martin McGuinness, has said that an ``acceptable, representative civic policing service is both necessary and achievable''.

McGuinness was speaking at The Irish Times Debate Final in University College Dublin last Friday. ``I am prepared to go to the Sinn Féin Árd Chomhairle and propose the nomination of Sinn Féin members to the board of such a new policing service,'' he said. ``This will present a huge challenge for republicans, but it is one we are prepared to face.''

In recent reports, Dublin government sources have also been quoted accusing Sinn Féin of not wanting to reach an agreement and of seeking to deflect the blame for failure onto the British Government. McGuinness said that this was nonsense and that the core issue in these negotiations has been the failure to implement the Good Friday Agreement. ``This is what the two governments and the pro-Agreement parties signed up to,'' he pointed out.

``Patten delivered as instructed. Sinn Féin wanted more. Yet we are prepared to work with it on the basis that if implemented in full it could provide a threshold position on which to build a new civic policing service.

``This goal can still be achieved. However, since May of last year all of our time has been spent trying to get the British Government to go back to the recommendation of a commission which they appointed in line with the Good Friday Agreement.''

In reference to the current British position on policing, as represented by the Police Bill, McGuinness said that this falls far short of the vision and hope of the Good Friday Agreement. ``Nor does it satisfy the very clear mandate set out in the Patten Commission's terms of reference. It is not a new beginning. It will not serve the people of the Six Counties.

``Despite the best efforts of the securocrats - there has been some progress since May. Some progress but not enough.''

The progress to date has come about because of the combined efforts of Irish nationalist, republican, Catholic and US opinion, he said. ``The pursuit of that objective, the centrality to society of the policing issue, and the resolution of the outstanding concerns requires the same unity of purpose.''

The centrality to society of the policing issue was also at the core of discussions in the Six-County Assembly this week.

Sinn Féin Human Rights spokesperson and Foyle Assembly representative, Mary Nelis said during a debate on Tuesday on collusion that it is imperative that the full details of the activities of the RUC Special Branch and British Force Research Unit (FRU) collusion with loyalists is revealed.

Sinn Féin Assembly Chief Whip Alex Maskey accused the SDLP of cowardice in the face of Unionist intransigence on Tuesday after they refused to back the Assembly motion calling for an independent public inquiry into collusion.

Maskey said: ``Such cowardice in the face of Unionist bigotry demonstrates a lack of political backbone. Many will find it impossible to understand how the SDLP can play party politics with such an important issue and abstain on such a crucial vote.''

Mitchel McLaughlin added that the issue ``goes to the heart of our concerns about the creation of a new beginning to policing. The removal of the RUC Special Branch as a force within a force, in line with Patten, and the balance of power between the British Secretary of State, the Chief Constable and the proposed Policing Board are two of the key areas where there remains considerable distance between what is proposed by the British government and what is required.''

Meanwhile, David Trimble was not preoccupied with the issue of policing, or even talks, this week, but by a speech made by republican former POW Brian Keenan in South Armagh at the weekend. Trimble's repudiation of the speech was termed by Gerry Adams as ``a storm in a teacup''.

Keenan had told republicans not to be afraid of the challenge presented by the Good Friday Agreement in a speech maliciously reported by sections of the media.

``Don't be afraid of the phase we are in. This phase will either be successful, or it will be over. The Good Friday Agreement will either stand or fall.

``The revolution can never be over until we have our country, until we have British imperialism where it belongs - in the dustbin of history.'' He called on people to support the peace process as a vehicle for change.
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