Sinn Féin endorsement of PSNI unlikely before November deadline

The timetable for the transfer of powers and the level of accountability of the new force will delay the decision, say Sinn Féin. By Frank Connolly

The Sinn Féin leadership will not convene an emergency ard fheis to propose endorsement of the PSNI until agreement is reached with the British government on a timetable for the transfer of powers and the level of accountability of the new force.

"Nobody in the leadership would dare go to an ard fheis unless outstanding issues are resolved. It is crucial that the party members and the grass roots know that the new policing service proposed is different to what came before and that it is accountable," a senior party member told Village.

The key issues yet to be resolved in discussion with the British government include a lack of clarity regarding the relationship between the British security service, MI5, and the PSNI as well as the timetable for the transfer of powers to the proposed new executive government in the North.

Under the St Andrews Agreement published by the two governments on Friday 13 October it is proposed that the policing powers will be transferred to the executive by May 2008, a date that is too far away for Sinn Fein. It is also propsed in an annexe to the agreement that the PSNI would operate on intelligence matters under the aegis of MI5 which is an unaccountable body other than to the higher echelons of the British government, and then only in secret.Gerry AdamsIan Paisley

"MI5 is not publicly accountable but the new policing service, to be acceptable, has to be fully accountable to the Police Ombudsman, the Policing Board and to a local minister or ministers," the Sinn Féin spokesman said.

Given the outstanding difficulties to be resolved in discussions between republicans and the British government it is not possible for Sinn Féin to convene an ard comhairle meeting and an ard fheis to endorse the PSNI by 24 November when it is proposed to nominate Ian Paisley as first minister and Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister in the new executive.

The demand by the DUP that Martin McGuinness and other proposed ministers take a pledge of office which includes endorsement of the policing service and of law and order generally is therefore unattainable within this timetable.

Ian Paisley has said that he has a commitment from British prime minister, Tony Blair, that the pledge would come before the nomination of the two equal positions of first and deputy first minister while Sinn Féin claims that it understands it will not arise until the new executive actually takes office in March 2007.

"This issue can be resolved but the British have to be open and frank with Sinn Féin about what they are saying to the DUP and equally they have to be frank with the DUP about what they are saying to us," said the Sinn Féin spokesperson.

Senior members of the DUP, including MEP Jim Allister, appear to have baulked at what they consider to be generous concessions to Sinn Féin in recent discussions. After resisting the idea for some years the DUP has now agreed that all ministers must take their positions on the executive, that it must function as a collective decision making body and that all members must also participate in the north-south ministerial council.

Jim Allister MEP also wants the IRA army council to disband before his party takes its positions in the new executive.

"We cannot even consider going into government with Sinn Féin in a situation where the IRA army council still exists," Jim Allister said. He also criticised the lack of a default mechanism in the event of any future IRA activity. The two governments have instead accepted a course where there is a clear distinction made between Sinn Féin and the IRA which, they believe, has ended all its military activities and will not resume its armed campaign.