Sinn Féin, the Irish political party widely regarded as the political wing of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, has voted to accept the Police Service of Northern Ireland at an ard fheis (party conference) held in Dublin. 982 party members voted on the motion at the conference, where over 2,500 people were in attendance.
Surprisingly, over 90% voted in support of the motion after leadership forced a vote to cut short a six hour debate. Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams called the decision was truly historic, saying, “Today you have created the potential to change the political landscape on this island forever.”
The vote is historic due to the fact that Irish republicans viewed the police and the legal system in Northern Ireland as a unit of British rule since the partition of Ireland in 1921. In fact, from the start of the troubles to the ceasefire in the late 1990s, the Provisional IRA had fought the PSNI’s predecessor, the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Last Monday, a report released by Nuala O’Loan, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland confirmed collusion between the RUC and the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force.
He also he was also willing to meet with dissident Irish republicans such as the Continuity IRA and it’s political wing, Republican Sinn Féin; and also the Real IRA, who was responsible for the 1998 Omagh bombing, saying ” However, Adams also claimed at a rally on Friday, he felt, “In my opinion, there is only one IRA, and that’s the one which fought the British for a very long time.”
However, the Continuity IRA and Republican Sinn Féin rejected Adams’ offer. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, the Republican Sinn Féin president said, “Ultimately, it is the British government which will recruit, it is the British government which will train, motivate, and above all who will pay and give the orders to such a police force.”
A statement from Downing Street said that British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the “historic decision and recognised the leadership it has taken to get to this point”. Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern called the vote a “landmark decision,” and that it “has opened the way to Northern Ireland power-sharing.”
Blair and Ahern will meet at Downing Street tomorrow.
Sinn Féin’s support of policing was one of the obstacles to the devolution process, the other is Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party commitment to power-sharing. The acceptance of the police is what Blair and Ahern believe is crucial to persuade the DUP into setting up a new government.
Ian Paisley said his stand “forced Sinn Féin to recognise support for the police and the rule of law as an issue of paramount importance for which there can be no other way” and that “Sinn Féin must now walk this road, the time for true, visible and open support for the police and law enforcement has arrived.”
Some Democratic Unionists believe that Sinn Féin had only made a commitment in words only and that people in Sinn Féin power bases would not report crimes.
Peter Hain, Northern Ireland secretary said the vote was a breakthrough. PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde welcomed the decision also. Professor Sir Desmond Rea, the chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board hoped to see Sinn Féin join the board.
Sir Reg Empey, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party said it was “a massive step change in the republican psyche.”
Social Democratic and Labour Party leader, Mark Durkan said “They now need to sign with no ifs or buts. As Gerry Adams now accepts, nationalist areas need policing.”
The transitional assembly at Stormont is due to be dissolved tomorrow in preparation for elections on March 7. However, if the process goes astray and no election occurs, the assembly will be dissolved and remain dissolved indefinitely.
Finally, the Indepdent Monitoring commission is due to release a report on the IRA’s commitment to the peace process according to the British and Irish governments.