“what now prevents Sinn Féin from signing up to policing?”

Mick’s comment (no. 17) on this thread on the secretive nature of the discussion on policing reminded me of an exasperating exchange, recorded in Hansard, at Hain’s the Preparation for Government committee on August 30. Not that there hasn’t been productive discussion on how devolved policing and justice could operate by the committee [even if it took a while to be reported – Ed], but the fundamental need to resolve the issue is at odds with it becoming a negotiating position.From Hansard

Mr McFarland: I understand that Sinn Féin and the republican movement have been conducting a detailed analysis of policing and where they will go with it. There was talk of their holding an Ard-Fheis shortly to have a detailed discussion on the subject. In November 2004 the DUP and Sinn Féin had a detailed plan as to who was going to do what and when, although I know that people have since said that they did not sign up to anything. By the following February they were going to have discussions of modalities, which we have heard round this table, and the policing issue was going to progress.

For that to have potentially happened — and I know that it did not happen and was torpedoed for whatever reason — there would have been some thought within republicanism as to how it was going to deal with policing, otherwise it would not have got to the stage of a comprehensive agreement. If Sinn Féin has re-launched a discussion on policing, it would be useful to know what stage that has reached.

The DUP has said that it will not go into Government with Sinn Féin until the policing issue is decided and signed up to. That is clearly a blockage to Government. This Committee is designed to identify and, perhaps, deal with blockages. Until we get to the stage where Sinn Féin accepts policing and encourages young republicans to join, we will not get anywhere, no matter how long we spend in this room or how many talks there are in the autumn.

I wonder whether Sinn Féin can give us some indication of how far it has gone down the road of consultation. We have the most examined police service in the world. Hugh Orde spends all his time complaining to the Policing Board about the multitude of agencies that he has to answer to. It is not as though this Police Service is not monitored or examined every day of the week. What is it going to take now? Sinn Féin is not going to get what it keeps demanding, which is that every member of the PSNI who was in the RUC should be drummed out. Given the amount of safeguards that exist, what now prevents Sinn Féin from signing up to policing?

Mr Maskey: I will respond, but I will take a slightly different focus. I remind members that this meeting is not about Sinn Féin; it is about the rule of law. Several issues, many of which have been covered, can be discussed under that heading, and I do not intend to repeat what Raymond McCartney said this morning, or what I and other colleagues have said in recent weeks or years.

Let us widen the debate. There have been reports that the UVF has been threatening people in the past week. The deputy leader of Mr McFarland’s party is here, and his and Mr McFarland’s party has absorbed a member of the PUP into its party grouping, for, as he says, reasons of political advantage. Sometimes the party says that that was done to influence paramilitary decommissioning. Perhaps, in his lofty commentary on and questioning of my party, Mr McFarland will address how far he has got with tackling UVF paramilitarism, which has hit our streets again in the past weeks and days.

When we hear Ian Paisley Jnr talking about drug dealers, the rule of law and support for the police, we have only to look at Ballymena, which for many years has been the Paisley bailiwick. It seems a contradiction that the most rabid pro-policing and pro-law-and-order commentary, which goes back for decades, comes from the drugs capital of the North of Ireland. The amount of hard drugs that has long been available on its streets means that it can compete with other parts of the country as a whole in that respect.

Those are questions — paramilitarism, criminality, the use of arms and the failure and refusal to decommission — over which the unionist parties can have at least some influence. All of the focus is on my party’s activities. However, we can argue that our influence has been positive and will continue to be so. Why not apply some of your lofty sentiments towards some of your own spheres of influence? You have not done that in any credible fashion here. Let us widen the discussion to see what the unionist parties are doing, as opposed to simply questioning my party.

Mr McFarland: I was simply looking for factual guidance for the community — I was simply saying, “Where have we got to with this?” I am happy enough to get into a discussion about loyalism. We do not have an armed wing. We have decided, rightly or wrongly, to make some effort to encourage loyalism to go down the road of decommissioning and move off the stage. That is a laudable thing to try to do. Sinn Féin is a different organisation.

Mr Maskey: Will you give us an indication of how far you are getting with that? Last week your party had to call on the UVF to withdraw —

Mr McFarland: We will see fairly shortly how far we have got.

The point that I am making is that Sinn Féin is unlike any other political party here. I know that it has gone on for years about how it is unconnected to the IRA.

However, it is a fact that Sinn Féin and the IRA are directly connected and, for many years, the leaders of each were the same people. The influence that the Sinn Féin leadership has on the republican movement is substantial.

My question did not concern that; it was about how far the debate has gone in the republican movement with regard to supporting the police. The DUP has said that without that firm commitment it will not play at all; therefore, if that commitment is close, we have some reason for going on with this. If we are far from that point, the Committee needs to know that it is wasting its time. If, on the other hand, we are close — and there has been plenty of discussion — the DUP might be encouraged to make more effort in the Committee to get things working.

The direction in which loyalism is going is key and must be dealt with. However, we do not have an armed wing; we simply encourage people to follow a road that seems to make sense, if we are to have Government here and get away from all this.

I am worried that, instead of trying to answer the question or, in good faith, making a few pleasant noises about it, the person who asked the question is immediately attacked. All I asked was, “Where have you got to with this?”

Mr Paisley Jnr: I shall come back on a couple of things. It is easy to make slurs against a place by saying that it is a drugs capital. However, it is only a slur: there is no evidence. A recent Queen’s University report into drug abuse shows that the use of heroin is greatest in two areas of Northern Ireland, neither of which is Ballymena. I will not name the places, but one member who spoke should know it quite well. Ballymena does not have the highest incidence of the use of heroin by injection. That is a finding of the most up-to-date report.

However, that is not the issue. The issue is that drugs are a plague on this society, yet we hear no condemnation from the republican community of those who peddle drugs, because it is their people who peddle them. That is a fact.

Recently, the police arrested five drug dealers in Ballymena.

Mr Raymond McCartney: That was this year.

Mr Paisley Jnr: The ordinary unionist community, who put up the evidence and allowed cameras to be installed in places where those people could be filmed and subsequently captured, supported those arrests.

What we hear from Sinn Féin is not a considered help in the fight against drugs, but words designed to hinder that fight. One must ask why, and the answer is glaringly obvious: Sinn Féin benefits from drug money. Yet its members come here, piously wanting to be in the Government of Northern Ireland. That is hypocrisy gone mad.

Again, questions were asked of Sinn Féin. It has been alleged that the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the justice system are neither open nor transparent. When asked to explain how policing and justice could be more open and transparent, there were no answers, only slurs against some towns in Northern Ireland, mainly Ballymena.

Is Sinn Féin’s problem that there are too many Protestants in the police? Is it a problem that it is a UK police service? Is the problem that it hates law and order and wants to control certain parts of Northern Ireland, because, as I said earlier, it makes £180 million from crime here? The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee recently received evidence of payments that builders were making to IRA/Sinn Féin. One of them has had to pay a six-figure sum this year, and that has gone into the coffers of IRA and, ultimately, to Sinn Féin. Does Sinn Féin need that money to run its supply centres, develop its criminal empire and build its political empire?

Sinn Féin does not want to answer these charges, because Sinn Féin is as guilty as hell. It is scared to answer them and turn the situation around, because it benefits from all that crime. Until it moves away from criminality, until it crosses the point of no return, there is not a pup’s chance of its ever getting within breathing distance of Government in Northern Ireland. The sooner it faces that reality and makes the necessary hard choices, the better.

Mr Raymond McCartney: That is rhetoric and more rhetoric. People are here for a sensible discussion, but what we heard in the past few minutes was far from that. People know Sinn Féin’s position; we have been discussing it for many years. This Committee has talked about it recently, and, if I may say so, very constructively: transfer, timescale and agreement models. It has been a frank and open discussion, free from the kind of rhetoric that we have heard this morning.

We could make allegations about this or that, but where is the evidence? Where are the facts? They are not there. People hide behind IMC reports, intelligence, ‘The Sunday Tribune’ and so forth. We can all produce newspapers; we can all talk about Ulster resistance, Billy Wright and the Rev William McCrea. We can go round the houses all day long, but we will get no closer to resolving the big issues.

Mr McFarland asked about the stage that republicans have got to with policing. There was an open and frank discussion about that in the republican community. Sinn Féin laid its terms before the people, and those are endorsed, with increasing strength, at every election. If people want to deal with policing it is there for discussion: it concerns transfer, timescale and agreement models.

As Alex Maskey said, we can all grandstand, play to Hansard and run out of here to give sound bites, but we are getting no closer to a solution. It is disingenuous of Mr McFarland to come here this morning and pretend that we have not addressed some of those issues in the past few weeks. Perhaps he is trying to outdo Mr paisley Jnr. That is fair enough.

Mr Attwood: I will revisit one or two issues before I comment on the more recent exchanges.

The SDLP will not support the DUP’s proposal for the publication of an inventory on what the IRA did or did not decommission last year. Whether we like it or not, there is an accepted basis for working with the IMC. The IRA and the IMC reached understandings. Whatever doubts may linger, that is the situation.

However, the DUP is proposing a moveable feast. If it gets an inventory, it will be dissected; if it gets the photographs, they will not be enough; if there were 10 witnesses — some of its choosing — that might still not be enough. The danger of the DUP’s proposal is that, for political reasons, it tries to change the parameters within which the IMC works. That damages the IMC’s integrity in the overall political process. The SDLP will certainly not go down that road. The DUP should support a proposal that calls on all groupings that continue to hold weapons, republican and loyalist, to put those weapons verifiably beyond use and to work with the IMC to build confidence in that process.

Mr Paisley Jnr: Mr Attwood, I have no problem with that part of the proposal. However, the IICD has a mechanism for publication, and the early and urgent publication of an interim report would be of mighty assistance in helping to build confidence. That would assist not only unionists but everyone who is concerned about this. Clearly, we are all concerned about it.

We have been told that the decommissioning was spectacular. Therefore, a published inventory of such a spectacular act would silence critics. Surely we can come to some sort of agreement so that the proposal can incorporate Mr Attwood’s remarks and also ask for the urgent publication of an inventory that can inspire confidence? Does the member not see merit in that?

Mr Attwood: I was not asked to give way, Mr Chairman. Had I been, I would have given way. If you are to chair the Committee appropriately, I believe that it is your duty to ask a member whether he wants to give way.

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): I try to create dialogue and discussion.

Mr Weir: Will the member give way?

Mr Attwood: Mr Paisley Jnr’s point brings me to my last comment. The DUP does not trust the IRA on what it may or may not have decommissioned last year. It needs more reassurance. Sinn Féin must recognise that that is paralleled by unionist doubts about republican intentions: when a way forward is established, Sinn Féin and the republican movement keep changing the rules in a way that fuels mistrust. Just as the IRA, the republican movement, Sinn Féin and even the SDLP and the wider nationalist community mistrust the DUP because it keeps moving the goalposts on decommissioning, similarly, unionists and elements of nationalism mistrust the republican movement because it keeps moving the goalposts on policing. Sinn Féin and the DUP should see that that parallel fuels the mistrust of the other community.

That is what happened with regard to policing. If Sinn Féin had kept to its previous, publicly stated position on policing, people might believe its assertions that it will sign up to policing. Several years ago, the then chairperson of Sinn Féin stated publicly that if the British Government passed a second Act on police reforms, his party would not be found wanting when it came to policing. That is on public record. Yet when the second Act was passed and given Royal Assent at Easter 2003, Sinn Féin was found wanting when it came to policing. That creates doubts, especially in the unionist community, about Sinn Féin’s true intentions on policing.

When the time came to sign up to policing — which is what Sinn Féin said it would do — it did not do so, and the game moved on. There is, therefore, a parallel. On the one hand, Sinn Féin says that it will commit itself, then it changes the rules. That fuels mistrust. On the other hand, the DUP changes the rules with regard to the work of the IMC. That also creates mistrust.

Raymond McCartney made a rather odd comment earlier. He said that until there is trust, Sinn Féin would not endorse the policing arrangements. That was odd because Sinn Féin — indeed, Martin McGuinness — has said that if we wait for the day when there is trust, we will have to wait a long time before there is restoration of the political institutions.

Mr S Wilson: Will the member give way?

Mr Attwood: Yes.

Mr S Wilson: Will the member accept the fact that it is impossible to build that trust when every Sinn Féin spokesperson tells people not to trust the police? It has become cyclic: on the one hand, Sinn Féin says that it cannot endorse the police until there is trust; on the other hand, Sinn Féin does its best to ensure that there is no trust.

Mr Attwood: Sinn Féin’s template for participation in the political structures is that trust is not required because trust is intangible and difficult to define and achieve. The basis for participation in the political structures is that parties have lived up to the various requirements of the Good Friday Agreement and the undertakings of democracy.

That should also be the basis for participation in the policing structures. It is not a matter of whether one trusts the police. There is a template of accountability, and Patten-compliant policing has been achieved. That was the tipping point for people to support the policing structures, and it was reached long ago.

The real reason that Sinn Féin has not signed up to policing has nothing to do with the implementation of the Patten Report recommendations on police account­ability; it is to do with that party having a negotiated advantage and political leverage and being able to keep the Governments guessing about its intentions. It is time for Sinn Féin to get off that roundabout and to take heed of Gerry Adams’s comments in a recent ‘Irish Times’ article that, whether or not there is devolution of justice and policing, the policing issue has to be dealt with.

At a previous Committee meeting, Sinn Féin said that it could wait for 12 months for the devolution of policing and justice. The SDLP does not endorse that. However, if justice and policing powers are not to be devolved soon, and if we must wait for them for 12 months — or longer — after restoration, Sinn Féin must deal with the policing issue now, as Gerry Adams asserted might happen in that ‘Irish Times’ article. It is better to do that than give the DUP the opportunity to score points and damage the agreement and the prospect of restoration.

Mr McFarland: As I said at the beginning, trust is a product of engagement. Trust does not exist at the outset of discussions; it is the end product of people dealing with one another.

I want to return to one of Raymond McCartney’s points. As I understand it, he said that Sinn Féin has three requirements in relation to the devolution of policing and justice: a timescale; the models to be agreed; and an agreement to transfer. Should those requirements be met, that would do the business.

Mr Raymond McCartney: No, that is not the complete list of requirements. I am not going to give the party’s complete negotiation position right now, but those requirements are only part of it. Those are the issues that we discussed at this Committee. That is what I said.[added emphasis]

Mr McFarland: I was trying to tease out the issues because this discussion is about barriers to getting the Government up and running. We have discussed the fact that the DUP, as I understand it, requires Sinn Féin to sign up to policing —

Mr Maskey: Are you speaking for the DUP now?

Mr McFarland: No. I said: “As I understand it”.

Mr Maskey: You keep referring to what the DUP is asking for rather than what you are asking for.

Mr McFarland: If the DUP and Sinn Féin do not agree to anything, in the end, there will be nothing. As we discovered from the comprehensive agreement, until the two largest parties of each block, the DUP and Sinn Féin, say “Yes”, government here cannot work. If we reach the stage of coalitions or whatever, that is an entirely different matter. However, that it is not what the Belfast Agreement allows for. It allows for a forcible coalition between the DUP and Sinn Féin, and either party has a veto.

My understanding is that the DUP has said publicly that it requires Sinn Féin to sign up to policing. I was trying to tease out from Sinn Féin’s remarks if there is a basis on which it would sign up to policing and how far it has gone in its discussions. This Committee is designed to tease out those barriers.

Mr McCartney, you said that there are three barriers to Sinn Féin signing up to policing, and you are on record as saying that they are: timescale; modalities; and agreement to transfer. I get the impression that there are now other barriers, which you are unwilling to share with the Committee. Is that right?

Mr Raymond McCartney: Gerry Kelly has already raised those issues at this Committee.

Mr McFarland: Absolutely, yes.

Mr Raymond McCartney: Mr McFarland, you were being a bit disingenuous in your presentation and, at times, a bit patronising. In one of your earlier submissions, you said that the IRA no longer existed because an army that has no guns is no longer an army. I am paraphrasing your remarks.

Mr McFarland: As an army.

Mr Raymond McCartney: Yes. However, in your next presentation you said that Sinn Féin has an armed wing. One remark contradicts the other. Thus, you were being disingenuous and patronising. In your terms, an armed wing cannot exist if an army does not exist. I want to stress that that is in your terms, because, as far as I am concerned, Sinn Féin does not have an armed wing. As you will be well aware, “Policing issues” was item 2 on the agenda of a previous meeting.

Gerry Kelly raised those issues and brought them to the Committee. I was pointing out some of the barriers in the broadest terms possible. I think that you are aware of that, and to pretend that you are not is being disingenuous.

Mr McFarland: I am trying to have dialogue to identify whether Sinn Féin is close to taking the decision to support policing. It told an earlier meeting of the Committee that it was not yet able to take that decision. Why is Sinn Féin still unable to decide?

Mr McCartney has told the Committee that he has still difficulties with the timescale, and he wants to know when it will be devolved and what the model will be. We discussed all that earlier on. He also wants a commitment that the DUP, or whoever, will agree to that transfer. Logically, if we could agree to those issues — modalities and timescales — we would have solved the problem, and Sinn Féin would then be able to sign up to policing.

However, Mr McCartney has just said that there are other negotiating points. The Committee has been set up specifically to identify blockages. We do not want to interfere with Sinn Féin’s negotiating position, but if other negotiating issues are blocking agreement to policing, it would be helpful if Mr McCartney were to share them with the Committee. Then the Committee might be able to add them to the existing list and, perhaps, solve them.[added emphasis]