DUP leader Ian Paisley has welcomed moves by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams which could lead the party to a once unthinkable position -- supporting a police force in Ireland while it remains under the authority of the British Crown.

Party president Gerry Adams has called an executive council [Ard Chomhairle] meeting in Dublin to consider what all sides view as a seismic shift in republicanism, a modern-day equivalent to the signing of the Anglo-irish Treaty in 1921.

A move by Sinn Féin to end its boycott of the police and support the [British] rule of law is seen by many as tangibly marking the end the Provisional IRA’s armed struggle and the end of the North’s “peace process”.

Adams requires two-thirds support of the council to back his proposal for a special party-wide conference on the policing issue in January. That conference is expected to carry a motion to change policy on the PSNI (formerly RUC) police, but not without considerable opposition and internal upheaval. Antagonism to a force still disdainfully known as ‘the peelers’ remains strong in nationalist and republican areas of the Six Counties.

Ian Paisley, who refuses to hold direct talks with republicans, and who made the move a precondition for sharing local devolved power with Sinn Féin, gave a cautious response to the development.

He said: “We will await further developments in the days ahead to see whether there has been delivery, in both word and deed, from Sinn Féin.”

There was strong support for the move from the British government.

British Direct Ruler Peter Hain said: “Getting agreement on policing and power sharing are the twin pillars on which devolution will stand and I am very encouraged that what we all have been working for is moving into place.

“Of course we all want to see practical delivery but for the first time, we now have the real prospect of every political party supporting policing and the rule of law.

“The choice facing the parties has always been dissolution or devolution within the St Andrews timeframe of March 26. That remains the position but (last night’s) announcement is a positive move in the right direction.”

26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was equally heartened by the move and said it was vital for the future of power-sharing.

“This is an encouraging and significant development,” the Taoiseach said.

“I hope that this Ard Chomhairle (national executive) will agree the convening of a special Sinn Féin Ard Fheis (party conference) in January that will definitely and positively decide on the policing issue.

“This is vital if the [peace process] timetable is to be maintained.”

“A resolution of the policing issue by Sinn Féin in January will greatly help to build confidence and clear the way to the restoration of the [power-sharing] Executive in March.”

Sinn Féin had said that “considerable progress” was achieved during an intense round of negotiations over Christmas on the policing issue with the British government.

British Prime Minister was said to have worked assiduously on the issue from his Christmas holiday retreat in Miami, Florida.

Mr Adams said that he was recommending a party conference to his national executive because he believed it was “the right thing to do”.

“It will advance the struggle for equality and the search for a just and lasting peace on the island of Ireland,” he said.

* Irish Republican News will continue to cover breaking developments, including the considerations of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle, over the New Year break.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News