Ian Paisley’s DUP has cast doubt on the possibility of an agreement including policing in the North of Ireland next month and has again dismissed a statement by Gerry Adams last week that the IRA could be “removed”.
The two parties have been issuing duelling statements in advance of intensive negotiations in southern England next month on the implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
DUP Deputy leader Peter Robinson today confirmed his party’s low opinion of a statement in which Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams suggested that the IRA could stand down and disarm in order to remove it as an excuse by unionists for blocking political progress in the North.
And he also immediately rebuffed a call by Adams for the swift devolution of policing and justice powers to a restored Assembly in Belfast, voiced in an article today.
In the article, Mr Adams set out Sinn Féin’s requirements for a special party conference to consider supporting the PSNI police in the North.
He called for the two governments to keep there commitments if there is to a resolution of the political stalemate, and said that the sequence of events will be essential to deal with matters already promised.
In particular, he said the transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London to Belfast within a short timeframe was “crucial”.
“. . . If the outstanding issues around policing, which are mainly about achieving civic policing and democratic control of policing, are dealt with, as I believe they can be, then I would be prepared to go to our ardchomhairle to ask for a special ardfheis to discuss this matter,” Mr Adams writes.
He says such a move has been agreed by London, but “the details have yet to be worked out and unionist agreement is also necessary”.
He adds: “There should be no underestimation of the scale of shift in republican and nationalist thinking for Sinn Féin to be involved in policing, not only because of the emotions involved, not only because of the nationalist experience of policing in the North, but also because our country is still partitioned. For this reason the transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London to Belfast within a short timeframe is crucial.”
But Peter Robinson stressed that the IRA would have to decommission all of their arms and wind down if unionists were to agree to the transfer of policing and justice powers to a new devolved ministry at Stormont.
The DUP deputy leader said it was a mistake for Gerry Adams to try and put a definite timescale on the transfer of policing and justice powers from London.
“There are so many pitfalls around this subject of policing and justice,” he said.
Mr Robinson said reaching agreement could require more thanb next month’s talks, due to be chaired by the 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
He said the transfer of policing and justice powers could take place in the lifetime of this assembly or the next but he could not be prescriptive.
“I would have to say that if the DUP exercised those powers now I do not think there would be confidence in that from the nationalist community and if Sinn Féin were to exercise those powers, there certainly would not be any confidence in the unionist community as things stand.
“If there was decommissioning by them of all their illegal weaponry and if there was an end not just to paramilitary but also criminal activity in a convincing way, then that would, I believe, create the confidence among unionists.”
He also defended colleague Ian Paisley Junior`s criticism of Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams last week over his comments that republicans may have to prepare for the IRA being wound down in the context of a new peace process deal. “It was DUP policy down the line,” he said.
Mr Robinson added: “I hope Mr Adams on this occasion does what Sinn Féin and the IRA failed to do on previous occasions but only time will tell.
“He cannot expect unionists to jump up and down with joy because of what he has said.”
Mr Robinson was responding to a challenge by Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey to come forward and state what his party’s position was on Mr Adams’s comments.