TALKS GO ON DESPITE DOUBTS
A week of intense talks involving Sinn Fein, Ian Paisley's DUP and the
Dublin and London governments to find a way through the impasse over
policing before the Christmas break continues unabated.
Although the process appeared to have collapsed following statements
yesterday from Nigel Dodds and other DUP hardliners, Sinn Fein's
Martin McGuinness confirmed that "progress is being made and work
continue today [Saturday]".
While the DUP is still refusing to engage directly with Sinn Fein,
neither side appears ready to abandon the process ahead of the
There was no confirmation of speculation in the media that Sinn Fein
party officers are canvassing internal support for a meeting of the
party's leadership [Ard Chomhairle]. This would consider holding the
highly controversial special conference which would debate a change in
party policy to support the PSNI police.
In order to fit a tight timetable for an election to the Belfast
Assembly and the return of power-sharing by the governments' March
26th target date, a Sinn Fein party conference [Ard Fheis] would need
to be held by the end of January.
Intense opposition from grassroots republicans has been predicted to
any leadership motion to endorse the PSNI police and [British] rule of
law in the North of Ireland. The change in policy is required under
the terms of the recently negotiated St Andrews Agreement, which
remains the blueprint for the implementation of the central elements
of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The talks in Belfast are currently focussed on securing a date for the
transfer of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast. It is
understood that such a timetable would allow the Sinn Fein leadership
to argue that policing and justice in the North of Ireland was entering
a transitional phase and would be increasingly independent of British
It was revealed that several times yesterday, British Prime Minister
Tony Blair got involved by telephone in a detailed way with the main
negotiators. Meanwhile, the nationalist SDLP all but abandoned hope
for the talks, claiming the DUP and Sinn Fein were merely trying to
shift the blame for the impasse.
Scepticism has also been mounting among grassroots republicans over
direction of the talks following a series of public and
private statements by DUP figures in which they declared their only
intention in the current negotiations is to defeat republicanism.
Confidence was further dented by the comments of DUP's Nigel Dodds,
who yesterday ruled out any timetable for the transfer of policing and
justice which he said would be "some kind of comfort to Sinn Fein".
The May 2008 target date mentioned by British Direct Ruler Peter Hain
for the devolution of these powers carried no weight, he said, nor
would any private deals on the issue between the British government and
The final decision on when the powers would be transferred from London
rested with the DUP, he said.
"It has never been agreed by the DUP nor will it be. So Hain's comments
on this issue amount to hot air.
"Hain may be attempting to bring some kind of comfort to Sinn Fein,
he speaks only for the Government and on this issue the Government
"The DUP has made it clear repeatedly that there will be no timetable
for devolution of policing and justice agreed by us.
"Such a timetable is a republican demand only. No other party ever
this a precondition for doing the right thing on policing and justice."
Fellow DUP MP Willie McCrea claimed that republicans had come up against
a "wall of resistance" from his party in the talks.
The South Antrim MP said: "Let Sinn Fein/IRA crawl if they want,
are not moving one inch on our determination to resist any ploy of
Government to get republicans off the hook.
"I now am aware that the mighty Adams and McGuinness are so anxious
get over this present difficulty that they are willing to soften their
demand to government, hoping they're gullible republican activists will
not catch on.
"However we must be alert to the ploy of the Government and the Sinn
Fein/IRA leadership and prove that for unionists there is a line drawn
in the sand."
Sinn Fein Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness described the comments as
"deliberately provocative" and "a cause of concern to nationalists
He said that "key to moving forward is a commitment from the DUP
sharing power on the basis of equality with republicans".