In a stunning reversal, Denis Bradley, the vice-chairman of the Policing Board has warned that nationalists could reconsider their involvement in policing if the long-standing political deadlock is not broken.
The controversial nationalist moderate also called for the Irish and British governments to jointly rule the North of Ireland if a talks breakthrough is not achieved within two weeks.
The remarks incensed unionists, which called for his immediate resignation from the board, while Sinn Féin claimed vindicatation for their policy of non-participation in the new policing structures.
SDLP Policing Board member Alex Attwood said the comments had “undermined progress”.
Mr Bradley pointed out that republican areas in Derry and border areas were not being policed properly because of the political deadlock.
“If a police officer was killed somewhere within the next couple of months - within that vacuum - I think that policing could be set back for a long period of time,” he warned.
“The broad nationalist consensus will find it very difficult, in my opinion, to live under direct rule,” he added.
He said that if the political problems were not solved within two weeks, the British and Irish governments should impose joint authority or some other mechanism other than direct rule.
DUP Policing Board member Ian Paisley jnr described the comments as “disgraceful” and a “licence to dissident republicans to attack and kill police officers”.
“He has deliberately created a situation where now his support for the police is conditional upon republicans getting their own way,” Mr Paisley said.
Sinn Féin’s Mitchel McLaughlin said Mr Bradley’s words were an admission that promised policing reforms had not been implemented and that the current arrangements do not meet the demand of the Good Friday Agreement for an accountable policing service”.
The party has boycotted the new policing structures because of the British government’s failure to stand by its commitments on policing reforms.
“Sinn Féin have been saying this for the past three years, when Mr Bradley along with the SDLP jumped to endorse flawed policing arrangements,” Mr McLaughlin said.