“it would be an enormous boost to the prospects of doing a deal”

Via the UTV website, the Press Association reports that Secretary of State, Peter Hain has called for “an unequivocal commitment to support policing” from the Sinn Féin leadership ahead of the November 24th deadline – it comes after a brief exchange on the issue at his Preparation for Government Committee this morning. Sinn Féin meanwhile, and I think prior to the press conference by Hain, have issued a statement from SF’s Martin McGuinness clarifying his party’s position..One interesting point on the clarification by McGuinness is the stipulation on forming “fully functioning political institutions”..

“We need policing which is democratic, accountable, representative and free from political control. Central to achieving this is the transfer of power to locally elected politicians. Sinn Féin argued for and secured British legislation to enable his to happen. But we also need fully functioning political institutions, so can we hear today the British government strategy for achieving this.”

That would appear to be stepping back, not just from his comments this morning – when he talked of the government’s commitment to devolving policing powers – but to the previously announced position, from January, by SF’s Gerry Kelly

But it also bypasses the more recent comments, on certain other things mentioned by Gerry Adams… not to mention the other negotiating points that Raymond McCartney suggested were obstacles. They could, of course, have been talking about the same thing… but that would mean Mr McCartney was being somewhat disingenuous in his comments.

But amidst the flurry of calls and clarifications, it’s worth remembering what has previously been said – and there’s a fuller round-up here – but, in order to solve the conundrum of policing, an Executive must first be formed to open the first of the quadruple lock

Peter Hain’s solution to that, with his emphasis on the need for reciprocal movement from the DUP, echoes the comments of the US special envoy, Mitchell Reiss, once again, in an interview by Frank Millar in June this year

The worry for many people is that even if Sinn Féin resolves the policing issue, the DUP will simply find fresh obstacles. Is he saying that Sinn Féin signing up for policing should be seen as the last act, so to speak, of republican decommissioning?

Again, Mitchell Reiss says he doesn’t want to presume to know the DUP’s position, while his own seems clear: “I will say that I’ve been encouraged by the objective criteria they have set out for joining a government with Sinn Féin. The two issues Peter Robinson articulated when he visited the US in April were a commitment to supporting the police and an ending of IRA criminality. I think those are completely reasonable for the DUP to stake out – and again, if they should be met, then I can’t see any reason why the DUP wouldn’t be willing to stand up in Stormont immediately.”

The question remains, though, on whether the movement on policing from Sinn Féin, which Peter Hain previously expected to begin in July, will now come before November 24th.