The nationalist SDLP has said moves by Sinn Féin towards support of policing in the north pointed to the “futility of the armed struggle”, while Republican Sinn Féin accused their republican rivals of “surrender”.
Ballymena SDLP councillor Declan O’Loan said the republican leadership’s decision to call an ard fheis at which members will be urged to support the PSNI was the latest in a series of major concessions by Sinn Féin.
“After the heady days when they were going to drive the British out of Ireland, who would have thought it would come to this?,” he said.
“First they took seats in councils, then seats in the assembly, then ministerial places, then Westminster allowances - now they are about to opt in to supporting the policing structures around the PSNI.”
He said Sinn Féin would be signing up to policing structures with accountability mechanisms identical to those put in place after the Good Friday Agreement.
But, Mr O’Loan said, it was not just the last eight years which had been wasted.
“As one writer to a newspaper put it: ‘Did we fight for more than 30 years to become the SDLP?’,” he said. “Well yes, it seems that you did.”
Sinn Féin General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin responded by pointing out that the SDLP played no role in the recent political negotiations. He said the rival nationalist party had instead “sought to reduce issues of key importance to nationalists to the level of petty politicking”.
“Sinn Féin remained at the negotiating table until we secured full delivery on the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement. We did not settle short, give up, give in or jump too soon.
“Contrast this to the approach adopted by the SDLP. They told us that there was no point in trying to get rid of the RUC, they accepted MI5, they sat on a policing board which purchased plastic bullets, they accepted British Army involvement in crowd control situations, the very circumstances that led to the Bloody Sunday massacre.
“They claimed coming out of St Andrews that they had negotiated Annex E which would give MI5 a central role in policing in the north. Sinn Féin rejected this and put this issue at the centre of the recent Christmas negotiation.
“While Sinn Féin spent Christmas negotiating for change in the interests of all our people, the SDLP it seems have spent their time preparing for the now traditional attacks on Sinn Féin and reducing issues of key importance to nationalists to the level of petty politicking.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness was warned to stay away from Sean Sabhat’s grave in Limerick.
Former Republican Sinn Féin vice president Des Long said South, killed in an IRA attack on the police station in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, 50 years ago this this week, had adhered to traditional republican values.
“He went to his death with the expectation that his sacrifice would be rewarded by a united Ireland. Sean South did not die to reform the RUC nor to take part in overseeing the police. He died in the cause of Irish freedom and the fight against British rule in Ireland.
“It gives me no pleasure to say that former comrades are now working in the interests of upholding and enhancing British rule in part of Ireland, “ Long added. “The latest moves by Martin McGuinness and those around him to recognise the police is akin to siding with the force that killed Sean South.”