Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams is holding potentially significant talks with PSNI police chief constable Hugh Orde in Belfast today [Wednesday].
Mr Adams and Mr Orde will lead senior Sinn Féin and PSNI delegations in the talks at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, in what could be seen as a first demonstration of Sinn Féin willingness to conditionally support a British police force in Ireland.
The meeting follows on from a recent statement by Mr Adams that he was willing to meet Mr Hugh if it would help speed up the peace process. Key issues which have yet to be dealt with revolve around when responsibility for policing and justice would transfer from London to a restored power-sharing Executive in Belfast.
Mr Adams met Orde at Downing Street two years ago with British prime minister Tony Blair, but this is the first time such a formal encounter dealing solely with policing is to take place. Mr Adams, who will be joined by party policing spokesman Gerry Kelly and fellow Assembly members Caitriona Ruane and Michelle Gildernew, said that among the issues to be discussed would be the involvement of British military intelligence forces in policing in the North of Ireland.
“We will also raise political policing and the need for clear proof that this has ended or will end, an end to plastic bullets, and Sinn Féin is committed to law and order and proper and effective policing,” he added.
“Consequently, we are determined to ensure that the police service operates under the highest standards and is held to account through the most rigorous and efficient, accountable and transparent mechanisms, and we will also discuss collusion,” said Mr Adams.
A PSNI spokeswoman said Mr Orde was always willing at any time to meet anyone who could make a positive contribution to policing. “There are a number of matters that Sinn Féin wants to raise at the meeting and there are a number of matters which the chief constable will raise, including the need for Sinn Féin to engage at all levels with policing,” she said.
The Dublin and London governments have urged Sinn Féin to call a special party conference “as soon as possible” to clear up whether the party is going to support the PSNI and so pave the way for power sharing with the DUP.
Mr Ahern acknowledged that the policing issue was difficult for Sinn Féin but said 2007 could be a historic year with the prospect of republicans and unionists sharing power in the Six Counties.
Meanwhile, DUP leader Ian Paisley has warned his party to “stay on message and stay united”.
Mr Paisley told the party’s annual dinner at the weekend that divisions within unionism only encouraged its enemies and would cost the DUP badly at an election.
He repeated his warning to Sinn Féin that if it aspired to be in government, the Provisional IRA must give up the gun for good, end all activity and support the PSNI.
“A house divided cannot and will not stand,” Mr Paisley said.
“The greatest succour to our enemies is public divisions at the critical time amongst unionists.
“I have a warning for those who peddle lies against us. Beware accepting the snake oil of untruths told about the DUP and its leader.
“I have heard and I have seen all manner of suggestions about what I am supposed to have said, done or agreed to, none of which is true but all of which is peddled by those who are being used by our enemies to divide unionism.
“Beware of such mischief making as it only aids and abets our greatest enemy.”
Several leading DUP figures have expressed reservations about Mr Paisley adopting the two governments’ St Andrews plan for power sharing. DUP MP Nigel Dodds has said his party “will not take Sinn Féin’s word” on its commitment to the peace process. Mr Dodds also said there must be a “credible period of testing” of Sinn Féin’s intentions, particularly with regard to policing.
Speaking on BBC Radio, Mr Dodds said it was “increasingly difficult” to see how the governments’ deadline of March 26th for the restoration of power-sharing could be met.
Meanwhile, hardline republicans say they intend to hold a public debate in Toomebridge on Thursday to discuss policing and that more will follow. A 12-strong steering group includes members of Sinn Féin unhappy with the leadership strategy, as well as representatives of the Irish Republican Socialist party (IRSP) and 32-County Sovereignty Movement.
Willie Gallagher, an IRSP representative on the group, said the working title for the organisers was Concerned Republicans. The group held a policing debate at Conway Street Mill in Belfast last week. It was attended by 300 people, including a leading member of the IRA in north Armagh.
“Afterwards we were approached by a lot of people, including Sinn Féin members, demanding similar debates around the country,” Gallagher said. “We were told Sinn Féin is having private meetings on policing, but they are geared towards the yes men. It is a closed shop.”
The Concerned Republicans group is considering mounting political opposition to Sinn Féin, such as supporting independent candidates in marginal constituencies if and when assembly elections are called.
ASSEMBLY MOVE AGAINST GAYS
A unionist motion in the ‘transitional’ Belfast Assembly calling on the London government to scrap equality legislation for gays and lesbians in the North of Ireland has been narrowly rejected.
The vote on Monday was tied 39 for and 39 against, meaning the motion was not carried.
It had been thought it would have been carried given the number of DUP and UUP members in favour, but there was not a full turn out at Monday’s debate. Sinn Féin was able to use the vote of Michael Ferguson, one of its assembly members who died in Sepember.
DUP and UUP members voted in favour of the motion, while Sinn Féin, SDLP, and Alliance voted against.
Sinn Féin’s Caitriona Ruane said the DUP was “using homophobia for political gain”. She said that everyone should have the same rights and protections.
“There is no halfway house. You cannot have rights for some people and not for others,” she said.
It is understood the DUP intends to put the motion before the Assembly again in the near future. With a full turnout of the built-in unionist majority, it is thought likely the motion will pass.