A long-delayed meeting to discuss the direction of the peace process and republican strategy was finally held in south Derry last week.
The event, on the theme Policing: A Bridge Too Far for Republicans, followed a similar discussion in west Belfast which attracted around 200 people last month.
It also came days after Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams held his first full public meeting with PSNI Chief Hugh Orde.
Around 120 people attended last night’s discussions in the Elk hotel in Toome. On the panel were Francie Mackie, of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, Paul Little of the IRSP, Declan Kearney of Sinn Féin and independent republican Laurence O’Neill, who resigned from Sinn Féin last month.
Francie Mackie, of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, said the issue of whether the police force was made up of Catholics or Protestants was irrelevant as, he argued, it would still be enforcing the laws for an “occupying power” - the British government.
“We can only address the issue of policing in the context of the dispute over national sovereignty,” he said.
Paul Little of the IRSP, welcomed the event, claiming that opportunities for such a forum were “few and far between” in the past.
That theme was picked up by independent republican Laurence O’Neill, who said the discussion should have taken place “10 or 20 years ago”. His comment was greeted with warm applause.
Mr O’Neill, from Glenravel, County Antrim, said he left Sinn Féin last month after he was put under pressure from senior republicans to support the party leadership. He told the audience that he was not now a member of, or a supporter of, any other group.
Referring to collusion between police and unionist paramilitaries, he asked: “Are these the sort of people we want to join? I certainly don’t. Some of them may be innocent policemen and women but there’s a cloud over them and they are tainted.”
He said “participation and ownership” of policing was needed.
RALLY FOR PRISONERS
Meanwhile, approximately 100 protestors turned out for a protest in Derry on Saturday in support of the demands of republican prisoners currently on protest in Maghaberry jail.
Over a dozen members of the PSNI police were present to photograph those present.
After the white-line picket a rally was held in Guildhall Square. The RUC secured the collaboration of NCP traffic wardens in an unsuccessful bid to have vehicles owned by Republicans clamped.
Addressing the rally, Michael McGonagle of Dungiven, County Derry, said that “unfortunately there will continue to be prisoners for as long as the British remain in Ireland.”
He then introduced the main speaker - Cathleen Knowles McGuirk, Vice-President of Republican Sinn Féin, who stated that “as the Normans had been described as ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves’, the Provos have now become more Unionist than the Unionists themselves.” She added that “six months on from the beginning of the protest there is an onus on everyone to ensure that it is brought to a victorious conclusion.”
National Spokeman for the Republican Prisoners Action Group (RPAG), Tony McPhillips, Co. Fermanagh, said he “would like to pay tribute to the RUC for showing the people of Derry that they have not changed. They remain a Crown police force tasked with enforcing British rule in Ireland.”