Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and other senior Sinn Féin leaders have had to step up their personal security for fear of attack from hard-line republicans, it emerged tonight.
Republican sources confirmed Sinn Féin’s policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly has also had to take security precautions as the party faces pressure to sign up to policing in the North.
Members of the Provisional Republican Movement as well as hard-line dissident republicans in the Real IRA, Continuity IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army are opposing any move by Sinn Féin to publicly endorse the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
Sinn Féin is facing demands from Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to endorse publicly the PSNI, the courts and the rule of law in return for the formation of a power-sharing government at Stormont next March.
For some republicans that is too much of a price for Sinn Féin to pay.
A republican source loyal to the Sinn Féin leadership said tonight: “It is true that a number of leadership figures in the party have had to step up security.”
Sinn Féin would not comment tonight on the security concerns.
However, the reports follow growing speculation that the party may not be able to hold a special conference on its policing policy until next January.
Last Friday, Northern Secretary Peter Hain and Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern set in train the Irish and British governments’ timetable for power sharing after the North’s parties gave their responses to the St Andrews plan for reviving devolution.
The first key date will be November 28 when Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness are due to be appointed Shadow First and Deputy First Ministers at Stormont.
However, the DUP have begun to cast doubt over whether that target date can be achieved because they are concerned Gerry Adams has not yet called a meeting of his national executive to consider a proposal for a special party conference on policing.
In recent days Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness have stressed they are not yet in a position to summon party members to a special conference because the policing issue has not been completely resolved.
They want the DUP to commit themselves to a date for the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to a future Stormont Executive, and to also agree the type of government departmental model which will handle the issue.
Sinn Féin leaders have been concerned by remarks by the DUP’s North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds which appear to suggest the transfer of policing and justice powers - which needs his party’s support – would not happen in a political lifetime.
DUP Policing Board member Ian Paisley Junior, whose father held talks in Downing Street yesterday with British prime minister Tony Blair, today warned Sinn Féin their failure to address policing was affecting the timetable for devolution.
“As a result of the failure of Sinn Féin to call on their party and their supporters to endorse and embrace the PSNI, the timetable for devolution has already been adversely altered,” the North Antrim Assembly member warned.
“There must be no further stalling on the part of Sinn Féin.
“The central question is whether they are prepared to support the fundamentals of law and order on the same basis as normal democratic parties or whether they intend to hide behind excuse and rhetoric in a bid to avoid taking difficult decisions.
“The question of support for policing and Sinn Féin’s go-slow attitude to it is clear for all to see.
“There is nowhere left to run on this issue. If they expect to convince people in Northern Ireland they are no longer engaged in a subversive campaign designed to destroy the state and have instead turned to the pursuit of their agenda through exclusively peaceful and democratic means, in support for and working with the police, will be evident from Sinn Féin.
“Decision time for republicans has arrived.”