Sinn Féin will welcome any electoral challenge to it from republicans opposed to moves to get involved in policing structures in the North, Martin McGuinness claimed.
As Sinn Féin prepared for the fifth in a series of public meetings this week involving Northern Ireland republicans ahead of a special party conference to consider supporting the police, the Mid Ulster MP said his party had confidence in the electorate and its ability to see through the arguments of those criticising Gerry Adams.
Following a tetchy two-hour debate in Lurgan with heated exchanges between him and dissident republicans, the Mid Ulster MP said: “We do not have any problem at all with candidates running against us.
“It is an open democratic process and we have every confidence in the electorate.
“I think people are not stupid. People have listened to the likes of (former Sinn Féin member) Gerry McGeough dancing on the head of a pin about what he would do if a woman was raped and what advice he would give to society.
“He danced on the head of a pin in a number of interviews I have listened to and edged towards a position where in those circumstances people should give information.
“Effectively he has been flushed out and others like him have been flushed out.”
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British prime minister Tony Blair believe it is crucial that Sinn Féin moves on Sunday to a position of supporting Hugh Orde’s Police Service of Northern Ireland if their plan to revive power-sharing at Stormont by March 26 is to succeed.
Democratic Unionist leader the Ian Paisley has also made it clear that he cannot contemplate going into a devolved government featuring Sinn Féin without Gerry Adams’ party supporting the police, the courts and the rule of law.
At the four public meetings so far in Toome, Galbally, Lurgan and Newcastle, the Sinn Féin leadership has argued that support for the PSNI and involvement in policing accountability bodies will enable them to advance the cause of a united Ireland and radically change the policing culture.
Some republicans, however, have not been convinced.
At yesterday’s Lurgan meeting, Mr McGuinness was heckled by dissident republican sections of the audience and concerns were also raised about the move by families who had had a relative killed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and by the IRA.
The Mid Ulster MP, in particular, was pressed over whether Sinn Féin would insist on the prosecution of Special Branch officers implicated in today’s report by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan into the murder of Raymond McCord in 1997 and other killings by a loyalist gang.
Concerns were also expressed about Sinn Féin administering British rule by supporting policing and taking part in the Assembly and also about the party’s attitude if a contentious Orange Order march were to be forced through a nationalist area.
Several sceptical republicans including Mr McGeough, a former IRA member and Sinn Féin national executive member, and also Paul McGlinchey have already signalled that they could challenge Sinn Féin at the forthcoming Assembly election to allow those opposed to a move on policing to vent their frustration.
The latest meeting organised by Sinn Féin will take place in the border city of Newry where local Assembly member Davy Hyland has become an independent after being de-selected by the party and raising concerns about its approach to policing.
Mr McGuinness said he did not believe there would be a split within republicanism if, as he believed, the special party conference on January 28 signed up to supporting the police on both sides of the Irish Border.