“We understand Sinn Féin’s difficulties here..”

The BBC engages in some interpretation of the Conservative Party leader’s comments for its headline on David Cameron’s visit today – as the report points out he actually said he would prefer if “the IRA went away”, but that an old boys association “would be acceptable” based on Ian Paisley’s previous comments, while he did state that Sinn Féin “must work fully with the PSNI”. Meanwhile, in the Irish Times Gerry Moriarty focuses[subs req] on the supposed “standoff between the DUP and Sinn Féin over the First Minister and Deputy First Minister pledge of office dispute [which] is causing some disquiet in Dublin and London, according to senior official and political sources.”According to the report

The DUP is insisting that before Dr Paisley and Mr McGuinness can be deemed First Minister and Deputy First Minister designate by the scheduled date of November 24th, Mr McGuinness must sign up to a pledge of office that incorporates a commitment to support the PSNI and law and order.

Sinn Féin is arguing that it cannot by that date make such a commitment because it would be seen by republican grassroots as the Sinn Féin leadership pre-empting what decision a Sinn Féin ardfheis – which is to be held after November 24th – would take on policing.[added emphasis]

“We understand Sinn Féin’s difficulties here, but policing is a bottom line issue for us and that commitment must be there before Ian Paisley will sign up as First Minister designate. Sinn F�in have to work it out for themselves,” said one senior DUP figure.

The emphasised paragraph above is backed up by a further quote

At the weekend Mr McGuinness indicated he could sign up to a conditional pledge by November 24th but it was unclear whether this could also involve a contingent commitment on policing. “We can’t be seen to be overriding what an ardfheis might do,” said a senior Sinn Féin source.[added emphasis]

Unfortunately for anyone attempting to make that particular argument, both the Irish and British governments appear to be holding to their previous statements on this issue – repeated as recently as Tuesday via the Joint Communiqué

The two Governments paid tribute to the work of the political parties at St. Andrews and welcomed the major progress made to clear the way to restoration of the power-sharing institutions. They reiterated their belief that all parties should be able to endorse the St. Andrews Agreement and to implement it in good faith, building the trust and confidence necessary for a stable and lasting settlement. They also restated their position, as set out at St. Andrews, that support for policing and the rule of law should be extended to every part of the community; and that such support includes endorsing the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the criminal justice system, encouraging the community to co-operate with the police in tackling crime, and actively supporting all the policing and criminal justice institutions, including the Policing Board.[added emphasis]

The various parties are still to give their answers to the governments on the St Andrews Agreement by the 10th November, and as I’ve argued previously [when we get back to Kansas – Ed], that answer will encompass the paragraph on policing.. whether the Sinn Féin leadership wish to be seen to be making that decision before an Ard Fheis vote is a matter of timing, not a matter of principle.

The only way for SF to avoid the implication of keeping to the November 10th deadline for an answer from the party would be yet another application of the constructive ambiguity which has proved so successful to The Process™ in the past..