Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on policing, Gerry Kelly, has said the parties could be “very, very close” to an agreement on policing if Ian Paisley’s DUP were to be engage with Sinn Féin in a positive manner.

Meanwhile, Ian Paisley declared today that Sinn Féin support for the PSNI was a requirement for it to take part in a local power-sharing administration in the Six Counties.

With just weeks to go before the November 24 deadline for an agreement between the two parties, the London and Dublin governments have been stepping up pressure ahead of hothouse talks to take place in Scotland next month.

The talks will take place over three days from October 11th at the luxury St Andrew’s golf resort in Fife.

Yesterday’s meeting of the ‘Preparation for Government Committee’ in Belfast was attended by both the DUP and Sinn Féin, although the DUP is still refusing to talk directly to republicans.

At the meeting, all parties backed a proposal that the British government should transfer policing and justice powers to a single devolved government department.

A proposal that all parties serving in a power-sharing administration should publicly endorse and urge their supporters to back the PSNI did not have unanimous agreement, according to a report on the meeting.

At a press briefing afterwards, Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly said they needed to separate out what was needed to get policing right.

“We could be very, very close to it if the DUP were to engage and stop being disruptive,” he said.

“We are in the business of trying to get to a situation where society has the right to protection.”

Mr Kelly said he hoped there would be progress on policing at the Scottish talks but also emphasised that a Sinn Féin special Ard Fheis (party conference) would make any decision in the future on this issue.

British Direct Ruler Mr Hain said he was very encouraged by Mr Kelly’s statement.

“I think what we are seeing from Sinn Féin is a positive direction towards engagement with policing,” he said.

“I think the DUP should respond to that. It is important the DUP pick up the opportunity and talk to all the parties and move forward together.”

On Friday, 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern met British prime minister Tony Blair at his Chequers residence to finalise preparation for the talks at St Andrews.

With the end of Blair’s premiership drawing ever closer, the British PM is keen to improve his ‘legacy’ by securing a deal in the North.

With both the upcoming Irish election and a contest to elect Mr Blair’s successor, it is widely accepted that this is the last chance to finally secure the implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The Dublin and London governments have insisted there can be no extension of the devolution deadline.

“If there is no deal on November 24 then Stormont shuts down,” Mr Hain confirmed yesterday. “I think the prospects for devolution being established in Northern Ireland would be very, very difficult for a very long time,” he said.

However, during a debate on the report of the committee in the shadow Assembly at Stormont, Mr Paisley said the Provisional IRA had demonstrated “no support for the forces of law and order”. Until they did there was no place for Sinn Féin in government.

“There will be no executive that includes those who refuse to support the police by word and deed,” Paisley declared.

“A party wishing to sit in government over the people of Northern Ireland yet at the same time not supporting the police will be resisted by all right- thinking people. . . The days of those who would undermine democracy and the rule of law in government are over for ever.”

Without putting pressure on the DUP, Mr Hain said he thought it would be an enormous boost to the prospects of doing a deal by November 24 if the Sinn Féin leadership made an unequivocal commitment to support policing.

Mr Hain suggested it could be a decade before fresh efforts were made to restore devolution.

“If there is not a deal by November 24, history shows it could take 10 years to get things going again,” he said.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News