On policing.. and certain things..

With Peter Hain’s mind on other things it was NIO minister David Hanson’s turn to wave the big stick on the BBC’s Politics Show. But, with the DUP’s Peter Robinson setting out his party’s position in one Sunday paper, it’s the reported comments of Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams which deserve a closer look, as do the comments of others..The BBC reported these comments from Adams on policing

“The British government have made a number of commitments to us and it is quite public that they are going to do certain things,” he said.

“When they do those certain things, I’m going to go to the Ard Comhairle (governing body) of our party to ask for a special Ard Fheis (meeting), so that we can consider whether we will support or what our attitude will be on the foot of a leadership resolution in relation to the PSNI.”

It seems clear from the comments that Adams regards only “those certain things” prevent him from starting the process by SF to support policing – and those certain things, he claims, have already been commited to by the British Government.

He doesn’t specify what he believes those certain things are… but we do already have the sequence, as detailed in January this year by SF’s Gerry Kelly

Essentially we agreed that in the context of:

– Agreement between the parties on the departmental model and the powers to be transferred;

– The enactment by the British government of the legislation to give full expression to this transfer of powers; and

– A DUP commitment to a short timeframe for the actual transfer of powers on policing and justice.

Then the party president would propose to the Ard Comhairle that it calls a special Ard Fheis to decide Sinn Féins position on new policing arrangements.

That situation has not changed. It is not Sinn Féin but others who are delaying progress.[added emphasis]

That was in January. In May, though, we had a glimpse at the British Government’s understanding of the situation, courtesy of Frank Millar’s interview with Peter Hain

“I think Sinn Féin do need to put themselves on the road – and I think they have started off warily down this road – to co-operating with the police. I’m not saying, ‘Join the policing board tomorrow’. But there is a commitment they have given, which I’ll expect them to honour, that when we’ve got royal assent for the Bill devolving policing and justice, they then need to take positive moves to call a conference.They’ve promised that and I’m sure that they will.”

That’s the assent for the Bill, not the actual transfer of powers? “No, until you’ve got institutions to devolve to, you can’t devolve.” And the timetable for that? “Well it’s due to get royal assent by the summer recess, by the end of July.” [added emphasis]

Mr Hain says he can’t be certain of the timing of any Sinn Féin ardfheis, and declines to speculate as to whether the party might actually be ready to join the board and endorse the PSNI in time for a November deal. He also stresses: “There’s a radical difference between trying to solve problems and difficult issues like policing, which is what we’re doing, and using those difficult issues to erect a hurdle to power-sharing. . . I agree with what Dermot Ahern said in The Irish Times on Tuesday, that there’s a danger here of continually shifting the goalposts.”

Yet he is also confident: “Provided nobody’s playing games, then it’s in Sinn Fein’s interest – since their declared objective is to get into government with the DUP and the others – to build trust and remove an excuse from unionists and everybody, because we all want them to co-operate with policing. It’s in their interests to remove that excuse which could act as a final obstacle.”

Clearly, either that understanding was wrong, or someone shifted their position.

And equally clearly, despite his other contentious views on the subject, in May Dermot Ahern was also pointing to the need for movement on policing

“But I agree with people that it follows as night follows day that if parties are going to go into an executive there has to be an understanding that there is a move toward full acceptance of policing.”

Peter Hain certainly retreated from talking about the timing of any Sinn Féin ardfheis.. and by the time he gave his Glenties speech in July, it was time to draw a distinction

“I would strongly urge the republican leadership to draw a distinction between constitutional endorsement of the structures of policing and support for the practical service of policing in the community.”

The attempt to square the circle is in no small part due to the required process involved in devolving policing powers.. the quadruple lock – even though the overall shape of the eventual ministry has been fleshed out, the Executive must be formed first.

In the meantime, given that the Sinn Féin leadership is now stating that “those certain things” are already committed to by the British Government, the question asked in that exasperating exchange in Hain’s the Preparation for Government committee remains – “what now prevents Sinn Féin from signing up to policing?”

Because the SF MLA on the committee, Raymond McCartney, didn’t seem to be sure..

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]

And, despite the grumblings elsewhere, the DUP’s stated position hasn’t actually changed from May, again courtesy of another one of Frank Millar’s excellent interviews, this time with Ian Paisley

Ahern and Secretary of State Peter Hain have said the DUP must not raise policing as a new “pre-condition” to powersharing. Is that what he’s doing?

“I resent very much them saying I am putting forth preconditions,” the DUP leader says. “These are the conditions I set out in all my talks with them. I fought an election on it. I won my majority on this very issue. And the issue is a simple one. Number one, there could be nobody in the government of Northern Ireland except they accept the forces of law and order. And by accepting them, they hand to the state all the information they have on lawlessness.”

So this issue will have to be resolved if there is to be an agreement in November?

“Yes. Except we have the police issue resolved, there is no way forward. The talks have no future until everyone who’s going to be in the government of Northern Ireland is a complete and total supporter of the police. That doesn’t mean he can’t criticise police activity. But he’s not going to be planning activity against the police, he’s not going to withhold information, he’s not going to use his position on the Police Board to tip off fellows to clear the country. . .” [added emphasis]

Since they clearly want the issue resolved every bit as much as him, why does he suppose the British prime minister and the Taoiseach are not demanding this of Sinn Féin at this stage?

“I think they’ve been told strongly by Sinn Féin they’re not getting it.”

Peter Hain’s most recent reported comment on policing is worth repeating

“Support for the Police is fundamental in every society.”

As is the warning he sounded in the earlier interview with Frank Millar in May

“Provided nobody’s playing games, then it’s in Sinn Fein’s interest – since their declared objective is to get into government with the DUP and the others – to build trust and remove an excuse from unionists and everybody, because we all want them to co-operate with policing. It’s in their interests to remove that excuse which could act as a final obstacle.”