By Jim Gibney (for the Irish News)
Evidence that the leadership of Sinn Féin is set once again to stretch republicans to the outer limits of their commitment to the peace process is very obvious in the proposal that Gerry Adams put to the party’s ard chomairle to hold a special ard fheis on policing and the impressive support he secured from republicans at the meeting from all over the country for his proposal.
To say that the decision taken by the ard chomairle of Sinn Féin was difficult is stating the obvious.
Of all the decisions republicans have taken over the last decade of the peace process this one tugged at every republican fibre, at the core of what it means to be an Irish republican.
Support for Gerry Adams proposal existed for two reasons -- the quality of leadership shown by the IRA and Sinn Féin at all levels over the last decade and more and the success of the peace process to date.
Last Friday’s decision has to be viewed against the background of other equally momentous decisions taken by republicans - the willingness of the IRA to call a cessation, to put its arms beyond use and then finally to end its armed campaign.
The numerous decisions by Sinn Féin to encourage the IRA’s initiatives and to encourage sceptical republicans to also do so.
The decision by Sinn Féin to change its constitution to participate in a northern administration.
For many of those who took the decision on policing at last Friday’s meeting it will have been personally emotional.
They would have known IRA volunteers killed by the crown forces, especially the RUC. They know many of the hundreds of families whose loved ones lie in graves all over this country as a result of collusion between the RUC and loyalists. They know people who were tortured in interrogations centers by RUC personnel, people who spent years behind bars, many as a result of confessions beaten out of them by the RUC.
They will also know the history of the RUC and the B Specials and the role both these forces played in suppressing the nationalist people of the six counties and denying the people of this island their right to national independence.
They also know that making peace is about having the ability on special occasions like now to step outside these personal and political realities.
To step into the shoes of those from the other side who were also hurt in this conflict, hurt by republicans.
To put the needs of the peace process first before one’s personal and community experience.
It is these qualities of leadership which led Gerry Adams to put the policing proposal and for it to be backed by republicans.
In a statement released after the ard chomairle meeting Gerry Adams said that “profound changes had been secured” in intensive negotiations with the British government. These changes allowed him to bring forward the motion for a special Ard Fheis on policing.
These changes include commitments to the devolution of policing and justice to the assembly, support for police services An Garda Siochana and the PSNI and the criminal justice system, appointing Sinn Féin representatives to the policing board and the district policing partnerships to secure fair, impartial and effective policing with the community, hold the police and criminal justices systems fully to account both democratically and legally and to actively encourage everyone in the community to cooperate fully with the police services.
Sinn Féin also committed to ensuring human rights and equality at the heart of any new policing arrangements. They restated their opposition to MI5’s involvement in policing, to plastic bullets and to root out those in the PSNI guilty of human rights abuses.
This is Sinn Féin’s stall. Republicans are making it clear they are ready and capable of crossing over the line to support new policing arrangements - a truly incredible turn of events.
Ian Paisley said he is a man of plain words. Nationalists now need to hear these plain words committing his party to restoring and working the Good Friday Agreement’s democratic institutions.
Sinn Féin has shown it is up to the challenges of peace making.
Is Ian Paisley? Is the DUP?