Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams made a direct appeal to nationalists and republicans today to sign up to policing structures in the North in a bid to secure power sharing.
The west Belfast MP made the appeal in a four-page insert in daily and weekly newspapers published in the province.
However, his main nationalist rival – SDLP leader Mark Durkan, whose party has been involved in policing structures for over five years – also published an open letter calling on Sinn Féin to get involved, but to be honest with its supporters.
Mr Adams, who has been involved in a week of public meetings finishing in Derry last night, reiterated Sinn Féin’s primary goal is to achieve a united Ireland.
“We support civic policing through a police service, which is representative of the community it serves, free from partisan political control and democratically accountable,” he said ahead of Sunday’s special policing conference by the party in Dublin.
“This week’s report into the killing of Raymond McCord Jnr is further evidence of collusion and the subversion of policing by sinister elements. This has to be stopped.
“Sinn Féin is about delivering fair, impartial and effective delivery of the rule of law. What we don’t support, and what we will never allow to happen again, is repressive, sectarian and political policing.”
British prime minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern have pinned their hopes of securing devolved government in the North on the Rev Ian Paisley committing his Democratic Unionist Party to power sharing with Sinn Féin if it signs up to support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the courts and the rule of law.
Mr Paisley has indicated that he will do so if Sinn Féin proves through its actions that any pledge to support the police is for real.
Republicans, however, remain sceptical about the DUP’s willingness to share power.
While Mr Adams is advocating support for the police to test the DUP’s readiness to share power, some republicans believe endorsing the PSNI would be a step too far.
Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness yesterday confirmed he had been warned that he was under threat from hardliners in the republican community.
Gerry Adams and the party’s policing spokesman Gerry Kelly have also in recent months received warnings.
The Sinn Féin leader today acknowledged that policing was a very difficult issue for many nationalists and republicans.
This, he said, was not because they opposed law and order but was down to experiencing a police service which had been one-sided.
He argued, nevertheless, a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland would be an enormous achievement and he believed the time was now right for Sinn Féin to take that step.
“Almost eight years after the Good Friday Agreement it would be entirely wrong to allow the most negative elements of unionism a veto over republican and nationalist efforts to achieve the new beginning to policing,” the West Belfast MP said.
“It would be equally wrong to allow these same rejectionist elements to shut the door on the opportunity of fully inclusive power sharing and all-Ireland political institutions.”
But Mr Durkan claimed the onus was on Sinn Féin to sign up to policing instead of predicating any move on what Mr Paisley had to say.
The SDLP, he claimed, had done the heavy lifting on policing since 2001, ensuring that Ronnie Flanagan stepped down as Chief Constable, only to be replaced by Hugh Orde and had also delivered 86% of the police reforms envisaged by the Patten Commission in five years instead of the 10-year target.
The Foyle MP added: “Sinn Féin need to be honest with nationalists and their own supporters.
“There hasn’t been a new breakthrough on plastic bullets. We still need a total ban of these weapons. That’s something that the SDLP has always voted for on the Policing Board, unlike Sinn Féin who passed their seats to unionists who supported these lethal weapons.
“And Tony Blair’s statement on MI5 this month isn’t ’a very major step’ towards getting MI5 out of Ireland as Sinn Féin claims.
“In fact, Sinn Féin’s approach is allowing the British government to set the clock back on Patten. And the truth is that Tony Blair wants MI5 to take primacy over intelligence policing in the North (of Ireland) and he wants to prevent (Police Ombudsman) Nuala O’Loan investigating what they get up to.”