Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams is to meet British prime minister Tony Blair in London later today to discuss how to overcome unionist obstacles to restoring power-sharing in the North of Ireland.
Trouble is mounting once again after a number of hardline DUP politicians insisted there could be no prior agreement on policing and justice powers before Sinn Féin agrees to endorse the PSNI police.
The British and Irish governments are attempting to devise a formula that would resolve the standoff between Sinn Féin and the DUP over when and whether responsibility for policing and justice would be devolved to a restored power-sharing Executive.
This, and the subject of the involvement of British military intelligence in policing, are the main issues on the talks today.
Meanwhile, DUP leader Ian Paisley is due to hold a strategy meeting with the party’s elected representatives today in a meeting which is also expected to be used to address tensions within the party over the St Andrews Agreement.
Three DUP politicians - North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds and Assembly members Edwin Poots and Ian Paisley jnr - yesterday issued statements insisting the party would not provide Sinn Féin with a date for the devolution of justice and policing powers.
This was in response to Mr Adams’s position that he is willing to propose an ard-fheis on policing, but based on a timetable for the transfer of policing powers.
Mr Dodds repeated that such a DUP commitment would not be forthcoming, although he moderated his previous position that such devolution would not happen in a “political lifetime”. Sinn Féin now had a “long way to go” before the DUP would consider such a move.
He said Sinn Féin, “alone of all the parties in Northern Ireland, are demanding that before they can support the police they must have some kind of control or influence at an early date. No other party has ever demanded or been granted this.
“Sinn Féin have a long way to go yet before they can even begin to earn the confidence and trust of decent people that would allow us to contemplate devolution of policing and justice,” said Mr Dodds.
Sinn Féin is also expected to decide today whether it will participate in the new ‘transitional’ shadow Assembly which is meeting again in Belfast on Monday.
ORDE TO MEET ADAMS
PSNI chief Hugh Orde, responding to an overture this week from Mr Adams, said he was prepared to hold face-to-face meetings with the Sinn Féin president.
“My people have got to be able to talk to their people and at every level openly about all the issues that people are concerned about,” he said.
“Policing isn’t political. It is about people who need help. All I ask is that my people are given the opportunity to protect all communities. Don’t judge us by the past. Judge us by what we do now. That’s all I ask,” he added.
Nationalists oppose MI5 [British military intelligence] having any role in general or civic policing and reject British government assurances that the secret agency’s role will be limited to “UK national security”.
Orde said that “national security is about international terrorism and if people think the island of Ireland is immune from international terrorism then they need to wise up”.
SF ROLE IN POLICING
Meanwhile, the first Sinn Féin politician to take an official role in policing in the 26 Counties has confirmed he is breaking new ground for the party.
Larry O’Toole, a Dublin councillor standing in the Republic’s forthcoming general election, said he took the senior position in the city’s embryonic policing partnership to ensure accountability.
But the vice-chair of the Dublin City Joint Policing Committee warned his appointment should not be taken as an indication of the party’s position on the PSNI.
“I want to be doing what we’re doing here because to get accountability we need to be involved with this,” he said.
“But policing in the six counties is an entirely different matter.
“There may be issues about policing in the south but they are issues that can be dealt with,” he said.